Minnesota United goalkeeping coach Stewart Kerr has found himself doing a fair amount of talking this season.
When Tyler Miller was on the bench for the Loons’ first four games, Kerr said he had a couple of chats with the club’s then-backup ‘keeper. “Not to put him in his place or anything like that — just to reassure him,” Kerr recalled in an interview with the Pioneer Press.
Then when Miller got his chance to start Wednesday and helped produce the club’s first clean sheet of 2021, a 1-0 victory over Vancouver, Kerr and manager Adrian Heat each spoke with Dayne St. Clair, who won the job in preseason camp and held it for a month.
With two starting-quality goalies, the Loons’ coaching staff is being delicate with what Kerr called a “balancing act.” On the heels of their first win, Miller is expected to keep his place when Minnesota (1-4) faces FC Dallas (1-1-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Allianz Field.
Both Heath and Kerr have emphasized that St. Clair was not primarily responsible for the vast majority of the league-high-tying 10 goals conceded through four games. Only one goal — St. Clair’s bobble on a rainy night in Colorado, which allowed the Rapids to equalize on a rebound in a 3-2 win — is considered his primary fault.
Kerr looked back at his playing career for perspective on how to coach St. Clair. In 1996, Kerr was playing for big Scottish club Celtic and felt at one point as if he was left in the lineup maybe five or six games too long. And while he didn’t see it at the time, his confidence took a hit.
“We don’t want that to happen to Dayne,” Kerr said. “We also want to protect him because he has a massive, massive long-term future, not only with the club, but on a national level.”
St. Clair, 24, is a new member of Canada’s senior national team and had started 20 straight games for the Loons from the middle of last season and into the Western Conference final. He stepped in when Miller, 28, was shut down for season-ending surgery on both hips.
Miller “showed a massive amount of mental fortitude to come back because that type of injury for a goalkeeper, in some cases, can be career-ending,” Kerr said. “If you don’t do your rehab properly, if you don’t have the right mindset. It’s hard enough to come back, but to come back and be at the same standard or better than you were before is very difficult. It takes a certain type of athlete and a certain type of person to do that.”
Miller credited the club’s medical and training staff for helping him return nine months after surgery.
“I worked my (butt) off, to be honest,” Miller said Wednesday. “I worked as hard as I could every day, (but) there were days where I really didn’t want to be in there, and Stacey (Hardin), our old athletic trainer, she can tell you and attest to it. I told myself that if I put in the work now, it would be worth the reward that comes on the back end of it. That was kind of what got me through it all.”
With Miller back and St. Clair looking for a return, it will be interesting to see how long United keeps its relative stockpile of two starting-quality goalkeepers if they both stay healthy. There’s only so much talking that can be done.
United has been working on a contract extension for St. Clair, who is making less than $100,000 this year, while Miller is a sixth-year veteran making more than $420,000. Miller had more experience than St. Clair, but that was cut somewhat last season.
When St. Clair won the job in preseason, Miller said he tried to keep his head down, stay positive and keep working. When he got his shot earlier this week, he felt a combination of anxiousness and excitement.
Miller also made his Allianz Field debut with his father Brian flying in from New Jersey to watch him play. The Whitecaps had 1.15 expected goals, but Miller kept them at bay and made five saves.
Miller found out last Monday that he was going to start Wednesday’s game — and his dad dropped what he was doing. His mother, Cindy, was expected to arrive Friday night for Saturday’s match.
“As much as I’ve been wanting to play, my parents have been really wanting to see me play themselves,” Miller said.
With Miller the only change to the Loons’ starting lineup from last week, it would be easy to point to him as the main reason for the first shutout. Heath cautioned that view. “I think it would be better to talk about … the collective effort to defend the goal, which I thought was better than it’s been all season,” he said.
But Miller said the Loons have to be realistic on how much they improved their standing. “We are still 1-4, we’re still challenging to compete and climb the table,” he said. “But each game, each opportunity that we have, we have to approach it with the same attitude, and I think that this team could be really successful if we can do that.”
The Loons will increase seating capacity to roughly 90 percent of Allianz Field for the June 19 game against Austin FC. … United said Uruguayan club Liverpool FC is covering “some” of Thomas Chacon’s $432,000 salary while the 20-year-old midfielder is on a year loan in his native country in 2021. … New attackers Adrien Hunou and Franco Fragapane are expected to travel to Minnesota early next week, Heath said. They must go through a five-day COVID-19 quarantine, and with the Loons on a bye next weekend , the Frenchman and Argentinian could debut in the road game against Real Salt Lake on May 29. … Center back Bakaye Dibassy (thigh) is nearing 100 percent and the new target is for him to make his season debut against RSL. … Forward Juan Agudelo, who has a minor knock, is out again on Saturday.