Throughout the 2017 Major League Soccer campaign, Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer has repeatedly emphasized a “next man up” mentality. It carried the club through injuries, international breaks and suspensions, and it is a key reason why the Rave Green finished second in the Western Conference with a subsequent deep run in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
It was undoubtedly most evident on Tuesday evening when reigning MLS Cup MVP and 2017 MLS All Star Stefan Frei was held out due to a right hamstring injury sustained on Sunday at training.
Enter Tyler Miller.
The third-year goalkeeper had filled in for Frei just once in MLS play this season and was called upon to anchor the Sounders on the road ... at a venue where the Sounders entered the match winless since 2009.
No problem. The Sounders cruised to a 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium in the first leg of the Western Conference Championship.
“We have a mantra in this club: Next man steps forward,” Schmetzer said. “[Miller] did exactly that tonight. He made the saves that he had to. I thought he had good command of his box, he got a couple crosses early. I thought he was very, very strong.”
Miller shared a similar sentiment following his first MLS Cup Playoffs appearance. As Seattle’s No. 2 goalkeeper, he’s ready to step up whenever called upon, at any time, no matter the circumstance. Before Tuesday, he had seven career appearances for the First Team across all competitions, while serving as the primary goalkeeper for Sounders FC 2 the past two seasons.
“For me, the preparation is always the same,” Miller said. “You have to be prepared at any moment and be ready. This was my moment. I felt like I was prepared for the game and I went out there and had a solid performance.”
The former Northwestern University standout had a few easy touches early, which erased early jitters and settled him into a groove at a hostile environment where the Dynamo had lost just once in 2017 heading into Tuesday. He registered three saves, and the Sounders recorded their fifth consecutive postseason clean sheet. Dating back to the first leg of the 2016 Western Conference Championship against the Colorado Rapids, the Sounders have not conceded in 557 minutes, a league record by over 200 minutes.
The Dynamo attempted just nine shots all match, a strikingly low number for a hot team playing in its own venue. It’s a tribute to Seattle’s stout backline and defensive midfielders, who continue to keep opposing attacks at bay.
Tyler Miller played one regular-season game all season.— Sounders Matchday (@LIVESounders) November 22, 2017
He earned a shutout win on the road in a place Seattle had never won before. Next man up.
"The back six was incredible,” Miller said. “For me, it was an easy game. They were blocking shots left and right. They put in a tremendous performance. I never felt threatened tonight. It’s always a great feeling.”
It’s back to Seattle now for the Rave Green, who look to clinch their second straight Western Conference Championship. A victory, 1-1 draw or scoreless draw would send the Sounders to MLS Cup.
Frei is expected to return to action for leg two of the aggregate series on Thursday, Nov. 30 (7:30 p.m. PT; ESPN, ESPN Deportes, KIRO Radio 97.3 FM, El Rey 1360 AM | TICKETS), but if there are any setbacks, Miller will be ready.