Canadian defender Kamal Miller excited to join 'hungry" Montreal Impact

·3 min read

Emotions overflowed at Kamal Miller's family home in Toronto during the Major League Soccer's expansion draft on Tuesday.

Orlando SC had left the 23-year-old defender from Pickering, Ont., unprotected and upstart Austin FC scooped him up with its fifth and final pick. The expansion club then instantly flipped him to the Montreal Impact for US$225,000 in general allocation money and a first-round pick in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft.

Miller watched the action unfold with his family and said his parents couldn't contain their joy — their son was coming back to play in Canada.

“It’s a dream come true for them," he said on a video call Thursday. "Tears of joy from my parents and my sister. Everyone’s just extremely happy to have me home.”

Miller comes to Montreal after two seasons in Orlando. The Lions selected him 27th overall in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft after his successful collegiate career at Syracuse University.

There was a battle for playing time in Orlando this year, with both veterans and young players alike competing to get in the lineup, Miller said.

He made 12 regular-season appearances in 2020, and played two more games in Orlando's playoff run.

"Some weeks I was the favourite and some weeks I wasn’t, depending on the matchups and stuff like that," he said.

Miller's role in Orlando was at left back, but he may slot in at centre back in Montreal. Impact sporting director Olivier Renard said in a statement that the left-footed defender posses a different style than what the club already has at the position.

A new role doesn't trouble the six-foot, 185-pound defender, who said he's comfortable "anywhere along the back line."

He's not afraid to spark some offence, either.

“I feel like playing out of the back has been one of my strengths, for sure," Miller said. "Finding good passes to the midfielders and forwards and setting them up some good opportunities to score with breaking lines.”

Miller said he hasn't had much opportunity yet to speak with head coach Thierry Henry about what role he'll play with the Impact, but noted that the pair have talked about their values and expectations for next season.

It was an unusual and difficult 2020 for Montreal. The Impact finished the year ninth in the East with a 8-13-2 record and made the playoffs for the first time since 2016. The club was knocked out by the New England Revolution and saw its season officially end on Tuesday with a 1-0 win over Honduran side CD Olimpia in CONCACAF Champions League action.

Montreal has been busy in the off-season, however, scooping up a handful of young players, including Miller. The club inked 21-year-old defender Zorhan Bassong to a two-season deal on Dec. 1, and acquired 22-year-old midfielder Djordje Mihailovic from the Chicago Fire on Thursday.

Being part of such a young team will allow players to relate and help each other out, Miller said.

“It’s exciting. It’s a very exciting project.," he said. "They look to build a young, healthy group that’s hungry and wants to fight and has something to prove.”

There'll be some familiar faces in the locker room, too. Miller has played with midfielder Samuel Piette and defender Zachary Brault-Guillard on the Canadian national team, and both reached out when they heard he'd be joining the Impact.

Miller's hoping that together they'll be able to achieve some "lofty" ambitions.

“A personal dream of mine has always been to push the personal game of soccer as far as I can in Canada," he said. "So if I can come home and contribute to Montreal’s success in (the MLS) and in the CONCACAF Champions League, if I can be a part of that and help this team get there, that’s special to me.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 17, 2020.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press