Caleb Porter must have read my article from last week, because he decided to give Roy Miller the start at center back over the older and slower Lawrence Olum against Atlanta United. Unfortunately for both myself and the Timbers manager, Miller didn’t have his best performance of the year on Sunday afternoon. He wasn’t awful, by any stretch, and the team only conceded one goal, but Miller wasn’t exactly the defensive standout I hoped he would be.
Portland Timbers Defense Report: Roy Miller Solid in Start Against Atlanta United
It was Roy Miller’s seventh start of the year and his first since club captain Liam Ridgewell returned from injury. It was the pair’s first ever match together and there were a couple signs of miscommunication. The most prominent one was on the Julian Gressel goal that opened the scoring 30 seconds into the second half. Gressel stepped up to the edge of the penalty area and uncorked a shot that left Jake Gleeson helpless in goal.
Miller was nearby on the play, but didn’t close as aggressively as he could. Ridgewell, as the last defender, was also hesitant to get in Gressel’s grill before he fired the shot, but probably could have done more to obstruct the chance. Perhaps he though Miller would make stronger play for the ball or he was worried about a runner coming through, which was covered by left back Vytas Andruskevicius. A little more playing time together could have sorted this out, but I won’t harp on it too much. It was a wonderful shot by Gressel and there was nothing Miller, Ridgewell, or any defender really could have done about it.
But what about our friend Roy Miller? How did he do on an individual level? Was he a better fit in the back line than Lawrence Olum? Is he going to start next to Ridgewell again? So many questions.
Let’s start with Miller’s individual contributions. His raw numbers were solid, even considering Atlanta’s nearly 70% advantage in possession. He had three interceptions, four clearances, one successful tackle, and zero blocks. He only committed one foul fairly high up the pitch and his yellow card was for unsporting behaviour.
He had a solid day distributing the ball from the back. He attempted 18 passes from his own half and 15 found their target. He had an overall passing accuracy of 75%, which is satisfactory for a defender like Miller, who doesn’t creep forward into the attack unless it’s extremely necessary.
As far as whether or not he was better than Olum, it as kind of a wash. His numbers were just about on par defensively. However, Miller’s distribution numbers are still lagging behind those of Olum. Olum’s main strength is building play from the back, which is why he is a solid defensive midfield option. Miller doesn’t show that same level of passing.
I do think Miller is a better fit in the back line. He is more youthful and shows a greater ability to keep up with the increasingly fast attacks throughout MLS. Atlanta is known for their quick forwards and were held to a single goal despite controlling almost 70% of the ball. That has to say something about how well Miller can keep attacks at bay.
I also believe that Olum’s true strengths are being wasted in the back line. His passing ability is too good to keep him stocked back there. He is better as a late game defensive midfield replacement for Diego Chara or David Guzman. That would better suit his ability to throw the ball around the pitch while keeping him in a defensive role.
I do think the Timbers will start Miller in the back four again this weekend. The team only gave up one goal with him in there, which is more than what they could say for the previous pair games. Miller didn’t have his best game, but his early season track record shows he is capable of better.
Overall, the defense looked pretty solid without him and, next week, they will take on a Montreal team that has quick players along the wings, much like Atlanta United. Another game together could create more cohesion between Ridgewell and Miller in the middle, which would lead to more stability until mystery center back from Turkey shows up in the Rose City.