In a way, it’s the end of an era.
In 2010, when Red Bull Arena opened, the Red Bulls, behind a goal by midfielder Joel Lindpere and a boisterous crowd that carried the club through a spotty second half, won the first regular-season game in the facility’s history, 1-0, over the Chicago Fire.
Defender Roy Miller and midfielder Dane Richards were key players that day. Miller, making his Red Bulls debut, played a strong game at left back and Richards, in his fourth year with the club, gave the Fire fits with his speed and elusiveness on the right wing.
We bring this up today because both players were released by the club on Wednesday. Neither move was a surprise. Miller, 31, has been injured much of the season and only played in six games (five starts) for a total of 444 minutes.
For the 31-year-old Richards, this was not the first time he left the Red Bulls. In July, 2012, he was traded to the Vancouver Whitecaps, then bounced around Europe the next couple of years before signing with the Red Bulls in March following a preseason tryout.
Richards played in 12 games (one start) and accumulated 259 minutes before being loaned out to Indy Eleven of the NASL for the remainder of the season.
Neither player figured into the Red Bulls’ plans for next season, and with a combined salary of $305,000, the moves were expected.
Miller had been the longest-serving player on the team. He was brought in by then-coach Hans Backe in January, 2010 one day after Backe’s hiring. Backe had seen Miller play on loan in his native Sweden and wanted to add the savvy Miller to the Red Bulls back line.
Miller immediately became a starter at left back, although Backe also used him as a left midfielder at times. He wound up playing 25 games (21 starts) and recorded two assists.
The following season Miller was on his way to ironman status. Except for missing four games in September with a right adductor strain, he played all but one minute of his 30 games. He also set careers highs in shots (18) and shots on goal (5).
By this time, the sight of the left-footed Miller flying down the left wing, getting into the attack and serving accurate crosses into the box became a frequent sight, and fans at Red Bull Arena began to appreciate his willingness to attack and his hustle to get back on defense.
Miller’s rookie year was also the final year as a player for defender Mike Petke, who became an assistant coach with the club the following season. Petke’s influence on Miller aided his development and he soon became one of the Red Bulls’ better players.
Injuries and international duty limited Miller to 24 games in 2012, but he recorded a career-high six assists. The injuries continued in 2013 when he only played 17 games as he battled Achilles problems that caused him to miss the final eight games of the regular season and the playoffs, and you had to wonder if the playoff outcome against the Houston Dynamo might have been different if Miller was at available.
In March of 2014, Miller played in his 100th game with the Red Bulls. World Cup duty with Costa Rica took him away in the middle of the season, but he returned to help the Red Bulls earn a playoff spot.
Unfortunately, Miller received a red card in the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals against D.C. United and had to sit out both games of the conference finals against the New England Revolution.
For his career, the 6-2, 165-pound Miller played in 125 games for the Red Bulls, with 114 starts covering 10,063 minutes. He never scored a goal, but finished with 15 assists. He also played in 10 playoff games.
Internationally, Miller has earned 53 caps and scored two goals for Costa Rica. Unfortunately, Costa Rica did not qualify for the World Cup in 2010, losing a home-and-home playoff with Uruguay for one of the last remaining berths.
Miller was on the roster for the 2014 World Cup and played all 90 minutes in Costa Rica’s scoreless tie with England in the final game of the group stage. Costa Rica went on a Cinderella run after that, beating Greece on penalty kicks in the Round of 16 and taking the Netherlands to penalty kicks in the quarterfinals before being eliminated.
The only odd moment of Miller’s career came in the second game of the 2013 season against the San Jose Earthquakes in California. With the game tied, 1-1, in the final minute, the ball hit Miller’s arm in the box and a penalty kick was called. As Quakes forward Chris Wondolowski made his run-up for the spot kick, Miller stepped into the box.
Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles made the save, but the referee awarded Wondolowski a second attempt, which he converted in stoppage time for a 2-1 win. After the game, Miller said he did it on purpose to make Wondolowski miss, which caused some confusion because if Wondolowski had made the initial PK there would have been no second attempt.
During training that week at Montclair State University, Miller spoke freely about his mistake, which was a refreshing change from athletes refusing to speak to the media following bad performances or key mistake.
This season, despite battling injuries and rarely seeing the field, Miller always had a smile on his face after training and never failed to say hello as he left the field. When all is said and done, and we hope Miller continues his career elsewhere, those are the athletes you will remember.
In a way, it’s the end of an era.