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A star among stars: Miller helps club team achieve national success

Woodbury’s Ben Miller (right) earned second team All-State honors last season as a junior. (Bulletin file photo)1 / 2
Ben Miller (right) helped lead the Minnesota TwinStars to a Ptomac Memorial Tournament championship in Maryland. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

Nancy Miller was a little nervous.

Her son Ben Miller, who will be a senior at Woodbury High School in the fall, decided to make the leap to the Minnesota TwinStars Academy club team last summer to rejoin his coach Youssef Darbaki, who coached Miller for two years with the Minnesota Thunder Academy.

“It’s scary, because it’s a change,” Nancy Miller said.

So far, it’s been a change for the best.

Miller and his TwinStars teammates captured the U16 Potomac Memorial Tournament Championship in Maryland in May, which pushed the club into the Top 100 in the national rankings.

“It was an insane moment,” Miller said. “It was indescribable when we won.”

Heading into the tournament, Miller said winning the whole thing wasn’t an expectation for his team. This was the first year the TwinStars had a 16-and-under squad, and because of that, and the fact that it was a crew from Minnesota, Miller’s club started the season low in the rankings and off of most people’s radars.

“We knew we should be higher,” Miller said.

Darbaki said the team, which featured a lot of former Thunder Academy players with a few others mixed in, struggled a little bit to get on the same page in the beginning, but he knew they were bound for great things.

“I knew the potential was there,” he said. “It was just more of hard work, the commitment from the team and the players, the parents and us as a coaching staff.”

Darbaki got that commitment, especially from Miller.

“I would love to have 20 players like him,” Darbaki said. “He’s very coachable. He’s very, very serious about his game. He’s always early. He’s always the last one to leave.”

Miller, a captain on the club team, took on a leadership role as the TwinStars molded into a unified winner. Darbaki said he could count on Miller to relay the coaches’ messages to the rest of the players on the pitch.

“I’ve really stepped up and had to really bring everyone together and make sure everyone’s always on their game and doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Miller said, “so that we can improve as we have.”

Improvement is something Miller is no stranger to. Darbaki moved Miller from a center midfielder to a center back earlier in Miller’s career. That meant the Woodbury booter had to start again from square one, something he’s accomplished while becoming one of the top defenders in the state. Miller said he’s “extremely improved” under Darbaki’s tutelage, particularly in the technical aspects of his game. He said to this day he feels like he improves with each TwinStars practice.

“I remember when Ben first came to my team, he was an athlete first, soccer player second,” Darbaki said. “Now it’s the other way around. It’s tremendous improvement. Out of a score of 10, I’d say a 9.5. He’s really hugely improved.”

Miller hopes to play Division I soccer after high school, a possibility that appears more likely by the day as he continues to drum up interest from schools by leading the TwinStars to success in prominent tournaments while also performing well at camps.

Darbaki said Miller has played every minute of every game for the TwinStars this season and has been invaluable to the club. Miller leads a defense that’s been one of the TwinStars’ primary strengths this season and allowed just three goals throughout the entire Potomac tournament.

“I will definitely miss him when he’s gone,” Darbaki said.

Miller, who earned second team All-State honors last fall while playing for Woodbury as a junior, hopes to be named first-team All State this year and wants be in the running for Minnesota’s Mr. Soccer award.

The senior-to-be will need to have that type of impact if the Royals are to get to where he hopes they will go -- the state tournament.

With a roster bolstered a monster senior class, it’s not out of the question.

“I’m hoping the other kids have been developing a lot in their seasons with their clubs,” Miller said, “and we’re going to take on all of the other teams in the conference and make it to state.”