Miller's time: Woodbury soccer star begins pro career with Montreal Impact
A childhood dream is now a reality for Woodbury’s Eric Miller.
Miller, a former Woodbury High School soccer star and 2011 Minnesota Mr. Soccer, begins his professional soccer in MLS (Major League Soccer) with the Montreal Impact this year and will make his debut in Montreal when the Impact hold their home opener on March 22.
“Montreal is definitely one of the best clubs in MLS,” said Miller, a 6-foot-tall defender. “They have a tremendous fan support, great staff and a really good core of players returning from their playoff team last year. I couldn’t really ask for a better situation than what I got.”
The Montreal Impact selected Miller, a 2011 Woodbury grad, fifth overall in the 2014 Major League Soccer SuperDraft in Philadelphia in January.
“Playing professional soccer has been a dream of mine since I started playing when I was 5 years old, so the day I got drafted was incredible,” he said.
Miller said he was nervous the day of the draft and he was relieved to hear his name called.
“I was really anxious the entire day because I really had no idea where I was going to end up, but I am very happy that I ended up with a great situation in Montreal,” he said. “I was incredibly humbled and overwhelmed to see the outpouring of support I got from my family, friends and former teammates.”
The Impact moved up in the draft in order to snag Miller, who played collegiately at Creighton University and was tabbed as “the best fullback in the college game” by the SoccerByIves blog.
“He fits the profile of the type of player we were looking for,” said Impact sporting director Nick De Santis in a release. “He’s a versatile defender, who can play at either fullback position. He’s played at center back as well. He’s big, strong, he’s got very good feet and a great sense of the game and we are very excited.”
Miller, who turned 21 the day before the MLS draft, was named to the second team all-Great Lakes region in 2013 after starting 23 of 24 games at midfield with Creighton. In three college seasons, he recorded four goals and four assists in 63 games, including 62 starts, while leading his team to the College Cup playoffs in 2011 and 2012. He has also played with the United States U20 and U18 men’s national teams and for two seasons with the Portland Timbers U23s in the USL Player Development League.
Just prior to the draft, Miller was one of four college soccer players in the United States to be awarded a Generation Adidas Contract, which is specifically designed to help move the best collegiate players directly to MLS. In addition to training and playing with one of MLS’s 19 professional clubs, Generation Adidas players receive educational grants to further their college education. Also, Generation Adidas players do not count against an MLS team’s salary budget.
“Being able to secure a Generation Adidas contract was really great for me,” Miller said. “It was nice to be rewarded after all the work and time I have put into soccer throughout my life. It is a really big honor considering all the great players who have earned Generation Adidas contracts, and I am very grateful for the chance they have given me to live my dream.”
By signing the Generation Adidas contract and fulfilling his desire to join the professional ranks, however, Miller had to forgo his senior season at Creighton.
“It was an incredibly hard decision for me to leave Creighton,” Miller said. “I loved everything about playing there and I have a ton of really great friends who I will miss not being able to see as much. Playing at Creighton was one of the best times of my life so far, and it really felt like I was part of a family in the locker room there which is something I will really miss. The teammates I played with there will be my friends for the rest of my life.”
Montreal is a relatively new MLS club. The Impact began playing in 2012 as 19th MLS franchise. On March 10, 2012, the Impact played their first-ever MLS game, a 2-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps FC on March 10, 2012. A week later, the team made its home debut at the Olympic Stadium, playing to a 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire. The match attracted 58,912 spectators, which set an attendance record for professional soccer in Montreal. On May 12, 2012, the Impact played in front of a crowd of 60,860 spectators during a game against the Los Angeles Galaxy, establishing a record attendance for a professional soccer match in Canada.
While MLS is growing in popularity, it still hasn’t reached the echelon of the professional leagues in Europe. Miller said he considered going to Europe to play, but decided to take the “more guaranteed deal” in the MLS.
“Starting off my career as a professional in a continent I am familiar with was definitely very appealing to me,” Miller said. “MLS is a great league now, with a lot of really good players, but of course every player dreams of going to Europe and I hope I have that opportunity at some point in my career.”
At Woodbury High School, Miller was a four-year starter for the Royals, a two-time All-State selection, an All-American selection by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and Gatorade Player of the Year in Minnesota. As a senior, he tied for the team lead in scoring with 31 points on 16 goals and 15 assists from his midfield position.
At the time of his graduation, Woodbury head coach Joe Quintavalle said Miller was “the perfect player.”
“He’s the best player I’ve ever coached in every aspect of the game,” said Quintavalle, who has been the Royals’ head coach since 1992. “He has talent, leadership, work ethic and attitude. He’s got it all.”
Miller said he still keeps tabs on his old teams.
“I definitely still keep track of how the high school team is doing and how my old Minnesota Thunder Academy teams are doing, and I still have a lot of buddies that I keep in touch with from those teams,” Miller said. “My parents still live in Woodbury and I am there for all my breaks. Woodbury will always be where I grew up and will always be my hometown, so it will always be a huge part of me.”
Miller said his advice to young players is to, “spend as much time as you can around the ball and try to get as comfortable as you can with it.”
“Soccer is much easier if you can make the ball do what you want when you want,” Miller said. “Always work your hardest and have fun while you are playing. If there are two things you can control in every practice or game, it is how hard you work and your attitude while you are there.”