Against the Philadelphia Union, Eric Alexander set about making a statement. He's been getting some flack recently. Last year, he was (mainly) the stalwart who held down the right midfield spot while Lloyd Sam sorted out his fitness and understanding of how to get into Mike Petke's good books. This year, he's been all over the place: central midfield with Dax McCarty, central midfield instead of McCarty, right midfield, and - against Philly - left midfield.
Whereas last year he generally won praise for propping up Petke's system while the team found its legs, this season he's drawn attention to himself for being not quite as good as whomever it is thought he is replacing in the starting lineup. But he stepped up, delivered two assists in RBNY's first win of the year, and is now reaping deserved congratulations.
There was another guy on the pitch against the Union who likely had some sympathy with Alexander's position: Roy Miller.
Roy Miller is not only the longest-serving player in the current squad, he's one of the team's all-time longest serving players. He never played in Giants Stadium. He never wore a MetroStars jersey. But he is still a bridge between this team's present and its past.
March 27, 2010: Red Bull Arena staged its first competitive match as the home of the team it was built to host -the New York Red Bulls. Thirteen Red Bulls featured in that game, and only one of them is still an active member of the squad: Roy Miller.
Mike Petke - a starter on the back line alongside Miller in what would prove to be not just RBNY's first MLS win at the Arena but also the team's first shutout in its new home - is now the head coach. John Wolyniec, a substitute during the game, is an assistant coach. The rest are history.
Except Miller. He stuck around to make some history. Consider the following (as always, thanks to metrofanatic.com for the stats) :
- 8942 minutes played: Whenever he finishes his next 58 minutes for the team, he'll join a select group (currently 12) of players who have tallied 9,000 minutes of competitive soccer for this club.
- 101 starts; 113 appearances: He has already made 113 competitive appearances for RBNY, including 103 in MLS, putting him at 13th on the team's all-time appearances list. If he plays in every game remaining before his near-inevitable departure to join Costa Rica's World Cup squad, he'll head to Brazil with 118 appearances for RBNY to his name - good for 11th on the all-time list. He needs another 19 appearances to claim 10th on the all-time list from Tab Ramos.
- If he never plays for RBNY again, Miller has already played more games for the club than Juan Pablo Angel (112 appearances in all competitions), Clint Mathis (110), Petter Villegas (106), Joel Lindpere (104), Mark Lisi (102), Tim Howard (97) and Giovanni Savarese (96).
- He has played more games for this club than Youri Djorkaeff (49) and Jozy Altidore (43) combined.
Of course, for a team built on rapid turnover of players, records for longevity don't necessarily count for as much as they do elsewhere. But there's more to Miller's record with RBNY than simply hanging around longer than most.
Yes, the moments that stick in the mind tend to be those he would rather forget. This piece is not seeking to dwell on Miller's mishaps, but it would be remiss to fail to mention his ability to engineer extreme moments of misfortune. This talent reached its (please, please, let this be true) high point in a dreadful run of four games spanning the 2012 playoffs and the opening matches of the 2013 season.
First, there was the opening leg of the playoff against D.C. United in 2012, in which Miller sliced a clearance into his own net. Next, the horrendous 1-0 humbling in the home leg of that series. Down a goal and given one last chance to maybe, maybe snatch an equalizer at the death, RBNY decided to unveil a routine that presumably had been working well on the training ground: a Roy Miller free kick.
It seemed an odd decision - to hand possibly the team's last shot on goal for the year to a man who had never scored for the club - but we'd still be celebrating if he had scored. He did not. Miller lofting the ball over the bar was an abiding memory of another frustratingly short run in the playoffs.
The other dreadful memory of that match was, of course, the penalty. RBNY won one, Kenny Cooper scored it, but it was ordered to be retaken because of encroachment. And he missed the retake. Encroachment! Who calls that? Apparently, MLS refs. You live, you learn.
Except RBNY did not. Two games into the 2013 season, seven minutes away from maybe nicking a win against a very tough opponent - the Earthquakes in San Jose - Miller lost sight of Adam Jahn and an equalizer was conceded. Then, in injury time, he conceded a penalty. And then, Luis Robles saved it! Only for the penalty to be ordered retaken because of...encroachment. This time by Miller.
The second time around, Robles did not make the save. RBNY lost. Fans despaired. And Miller said he had done it deliberately: he had learned a lesson from that playoff game; unfortunately, it wasn't quite the right one.
After the San Jose debacle, Miller was allowed to leave the team for international duty early. This appeared to be more for his own protection than anything else. Many fans would gladly have had him stay in Costa Rica. But he came back, and was in the starting lineup after missing just four matches - his return coincided with a 2-0 road victory over DC United.
Such events - wins in MLS - are not unusual since Miller joined the team. In fact, they are more usual than they have ever been for this club. Miller's four full seasons with RBNY have been the most successful four-year span in the club's history.
I'll say that again: since Roy Miller joined RBNY, the team has been better than it ever was before. Not, perhaps, always the prettiest. Certainly not the most reliable investment of a fan's hopes and dreams. But better, in terms of results, than any four year-stretch the club has managed in the past.
To elaborate: in the four seasons from 2010 to 2013, RBNY has won 58 MLS games in the regular season. That is more regular season games won in a four-year stretch than ever before - more even than the first four years of MLS, when the only results allowed were wins or losses.
Over the last two seasons, the 33-game win total is the best two-year aggregate of victories the team has managed in the league. Yes, there are more league games than there used to be, but that could equally mean more losses.
Prior to 2005, the team had managed to lose fewer than 10 games in a season just once - in 2005. Since 2010, RBNY has not lost more than 9 games in the regular season.
The club has not put together a playoff or US Open Cup run of any significance in this period. In that respect, the teams of the last few years have not been exceptional. But the regular season consistency, which has delivered two Eastern Conference titles and one Supporters' Shield, is unprecedented.
The only player to be part of the team (in truth, four different teams) since day one of this spell of success (and lest we forget, the 2010 Red Bulls were doing very well for themselves before Thierry Henry arrived) should be a hero.
Last year, injury kept him out of RBNY's delirious run to the Shield, and he watched the latest installment of agonizing playoff defeat from the bench. It was a rare absence from good times and bad. Because Roy Miller, by virtue of being on the roster longer than anyone else has caused his share of the bad times, witnessed most of the rest, but also been a vital part of the good stuff.
RBNY inaugurated Red Bull Arena with a win - and Miller was part of the team that delivered it. At the end of the 2010 season, when the Red Bulls clinched the Eastern Conference title with a 2-0 win over New England, he was on the field. The following year, when RBNY clinched a playoff place on the last day of the season thanks to a 1-0 win over Philadelphia - Miller was in the starting lineup.
And he was part of the team that went to Dallas and got an unexpected 2-0 win on the road in the playoff play-in game which was the reward for besting Philly the previous week.
In 2012, he made his greatest single-season statistical contribution to the team's success: 6 assists. In 2013, the trajectory of his low-key, determined effort to get himself out of the hole he dug in San Jose was much the same as the team's gradual acceleration out of its slow start.
He is not a superstar. He has made mistakes. But he has never appeared to shy away from the challenge of getting up for the next match. He has stuck it out with the Red Bulls for longer than any other club he has ever played for - he must, presumably, like it here. It's time we liked him back.
This could be Roy Miller's last year with RBNY. He extended his contract in the off-season, and may well stick around for 2015. There will, hopefully, be CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals to think about next year, and one hopes the team's management has made provision for continuity in the squad.
But there will be an expansion draft next year. And a new Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiation is coming when this season ends. The next off-season will be a difficult one for any MLS front office to hold its core squad together, and RBNY is not generally one of the better clubs at managing its roster.
And this season is still in its infancy. It is impossible to say whether it will be another good one, or mediocre, or downright catastrophic. There are many games to play.
Still, on the grounds that RBNY has been buttressed by Roy Miller since it started its recent tilt at outrunning its history, I am glad he's still here. He may make a mistake or two, there may be days we wish he had never put on his boots, but on balance he is one of the best attacking full backs in MLS, and I am happy he's chosen to stick with us.
Thank you Roy. Keep doing what you do - by which I mean, the good stuff. It is appreciated.