Minnesota United’s Jan Gregus lost his road roommate and fellow fight fan when teammate Vito Mannone turned down offers to become MLS’ highest-paid goalkeeper and refused to return to Minnesota. The Loons lost their league’s 2019 Goalkeeper of the Year as well.
But now they will play on, with Tyler Miller newly acquired from Supporters’ Shield winner LAFC in goal.
At 26, Miller is part of a movement with a United team that coach Adrian Heath acknowledges must get younger and more athletic. Miller is 6-4 and rangy, able to play with his feet as well as his hands. He was called to the U.S. men’s national team last summer.
Miller was available last week in a trade after he played out a contract that paid him a mere $77,000 last season. He sought a substantial raise that Minnesota management paid at much less than half of what it offered Mannone.
“We obviously lost Vito; that has been much spoken about,” Heath said. “But we feel with Tyler, we’ve got probably the next U.S. national team goalkeeper.”
Born in New Jersey and college-educated near Chicago, Miller doesn’t occupy an international play slot as Mannone did.
“That helps as well,” Heath said. “In the end, it worked out for us.”
United can apply salary cap space it saved by swapping goalkeepers to one or more of three positions: A Designated-Player attacking midfielder (No. 10 position) to replace the traded Darwin Quintero, a striker (Paraguayan Luis Amarilla) to help replace Abu Danladi and likely Angelo Rodriguez, and a center back — to provide depth — from the same French league where United found right back Romain Metanire last season.
But it leaves Gregus without his roomie and a pal with whom he often stayed late playing soccer tennis after training last season.
“That’s how it is,” Gregus said. “I’m very good friends with Vito. We talk every now and then. I just hope for him, he’s going to find some good club because he’s a great goalkeeper and he’s going to be happy.”
While Mannone ponders his future, Miller chose to move back to a Midwestern lifestyle he enjoyed when he attended Northwestern.
The trade came together quickly. Miller learned United was interested a week ago Monday, and the teams reached trade terms last Wednesday. On Thursday he signed a new contract with the Loons, who strengthened their porous defense substantially last season and reached the playoffs for the first time.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Miller, who started 63 games and had 19 shutouts in LAFC’s first two seasons. “There’s no doubt Vito had a great year last year, and he helped his team tremendously. I’m a different goalkeeper than Vito, and I bring certain attributes that I think will help this team moving forward. I’m excited to get out there and work.”
Miller played behind Seattle veteran keeper Stefan Frei for two seasons before LAFC chose Miller first overall in the expansion draft. While there, he sat two stalls down from four-time All-Star Ozzie Alonso, who joined the Loons last season.
“We’re going to miss Vito a lot, great goalkeeper, goalkeeper of the year,” Alonso said. “It’s part of the business. He’s not here. I wish he was here, but Tyler is a great goalkeeper. We played two years together. I know him.”
Heath says, “I like what I like in a goalkeeper” and he sees a lot he likes in Miller. More importantly, Heath said, goalkeeper coach Stewart Kerr likes what he sees. Apparently so do LAFC and Banc of California Stadium employees whom Heath met there last week while doing a MLS media event in Los Angeles.
“Big, rangy, great personality,” Heath said. “Nearly every room I went, the staff there were really disappointed he left. He obviously made a big impression. We’re delighted we got him.”