SANFORD, Fla. — Rookie centerback Kamal Miller was nearly moved to tears when he stepped on the pitch at Orlando City Stadium for the first start of his professional career.
It was the culmination of years of hard work. Miller, 21, was raised by a single mother and wasn’t even sure he’d get a chance to play at the collegiate level, let alone in MLS.
His first start came in front of an announced crowd of 25,527, in one of the most raucous places in all of MLS, against NYCFC.
“A whirl of emotions,” Miller told Pro Soccer USA. “Happy. Almost tears. Excitement. Just… finally… just seeing this moment is here. Something that I worked so hard for that’s finally here. Being at Syracuse, I’ve seen so many of my former teammates get to this level and do well. I just wanted to follow in their footsteps and represent where I come from well.”
Miller was selected in the second round (27th overall) of the MLS SuperDraft after a standout senior season at Syracuse. Miller was team captain during both his junior and senior seasons with the Orange.
When he first took an interest in going to college, his grades weren’t where they needed to be early in his high school career in Canada, he said.
“It was a grind,” Miller said. “My first two years of high school, I had no information on [the] NCAA. I was definitely not interested. Then, when I started to get more offers and more interest from other schools and they started telling me to send my transcripts, every school pretty much told me, ‘No. This is not going to work.’”
So, Miller hit the books.
“At first, it was a challenge because I did not see myself doing post-secondary. But then, once I started to figure out that university would be the path to get to where I want to be, I put my all in it. From there, it wasn’t a problem. Just the initial kickstart to get me going was tough.”
Miller majored in child and family studies while at Syracuse.
“Syracuse is the school that really believed in me,” Miller said. “Coach [Ian McIntyre] saw something in me, and I just had to grind. I had to retake some courses and upgrade the level of the courses. Overall, it was just a grind to get there.
Syracuse men’s soccer coach Ian McIntyre said Miller was a “terrific” player who benefitted from being a four-year college player.
“We always knew he was a wonderful soccer player, but he’s now matured into a terrific young man who we’re very proud of here at Syracuse,” McIntyre said in a phone interview with Pro Soccer USA during preseason training.
McIntyre was at the draft in Chicago to see Miller – as well as first round pick Tajon Buchanan – get selected. McIntyre was also present for one of Miller’s matches at the MLS Player Combine in Orlando City Stadium. He said Miller was a leader of the Orange, both on and off the pitch.
“Very proud,” McIntyre said about watching Miller get drafted. “For me, the first emotion is relief, so that he can get out of one of those chairs and get up on the stage and then start his professional journey.
“Then, what also kicks in is you become very proud. I realized how much work Kamal has put in. It has been a winding road for him as a young man to get to this stage. This is just the first step. There’s a lot of work ahead of him. He knows that, he embraces that and he – hopefully – is enjoying the process as well. He’s put a tremendous amount of work and effort and sacrifice into being down there in that beautiful weather and enjoying this part of his soccer journey.”
McIntyre said Miller was a player he trusted in big moments in games.
“I’m a biased guy, but I felt he was the best centerback in the ACC this past year,” McIntyre said. “He enjoys physical battles, and he became a leader our team.”
Miller journey to MLS also includes his desire to pay back his mother, Sauzette.
“Growing up where we come from, she’s a single mother, took care of me and my sister and always just had to sacrifice,” Miller said. “Always put me and my sister before herself. She always instilled hard work in me.
“Everything I do, I do for my family, and most definitely for her, seeing her struggles growing up,” Miller said.