Before a big match with the Canadian men’s national team, CF Montreal defender Kamal Miller has to stop, for just a moment, to acknowledge those who joined him along for the ride. In this case, it’s fellow defender Alistair Johnston who, like Miller, has seen a meteoric rise from League1 Ontario to starting for Canada’s men’s team in their biggest matches in a generation – up to and including this Wednesday in Toronto when Les Rouges hosts El Salvador (7:30pm ET/OneSoccer & Sportsnet) in 2022 World Cup qualifying. "Before a lot of big games, Alistair and I always shake hands and tell each other we deserve to be here – we belong here," Miller told CanPL.ca’s Kristian Jack in the latest episode of Beyond the Pitch. "Nobody can take our journey away from us."
BEYOND THE PITCH: Check out previous Beyond the Pitch episodes this week featuring Canada stars Richie Laryea, Alistair Johnston, Jonathan Osorio, Samuel Piette, and Maxim Crepeau.
It’s important to recall how far players like Miller have come, especially on the heels of Canada’s 1-1 draw away to the United States in the final round of Concacaf’s World Cup qualifying round – Canada’s first since the 1998 World Cup campaign. Miller, Johnston, and well over a half-dozen other players in John Herdman’s current squad (Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, anyone?) were far off the radar not long ago, something more established national team member Jonathan Osorio noted as a strength of the team. Miller, 24, has gone from split seasons with Vaughan Azzurri and Syracuse to the MLS SuperDraft and, eventually, a starting job with Montreal and John Herdman’s Canada team, whom with he played all five matches at the 2021 Gold Cup. "I've never been part of a team like that before where I can sit down and have an hour conversation with anyone," Miller said. "I’ve known a lot of these guys for so long – Dayne St. Clair [Minnesota United goalkeeper, former Vaughan Azzurri] is one of my best friends and to have him around at the Gold Cup was incredible. "It's always good vibes [around this team] and it makes us play so much better." The Scarborough, Ont. native has played a key role in Canada’s initial foray into the final round of Concacaf’s World Cup qualifying round too, starting the opening match at BMO Field against Honduras before coming off the bench against the Americans on Sunday. He’s been joined on the pitch by Tajon Buchanan, his former teammate at Syracuse University, an another player who has skyrocketed from Greater Toronto Area obscurity to new heights with Belgian giants Club Brugge. "Tajon wasn’t talked about as an incoming freshman – we had other kids that we thought were going to be our go-to guys" Miller recalled before the explosive winger's first season in the NCAA. "But he came in and shocked everybody. You could see he had something different." "I knew over time, he was going to be a special player. It’s hard to believe how we were at school, talking about getting there [to Europe] – and now he has done it." As Canada’s left-sided, left-footed centre-back in coach Herdman’s back-three system, Miller also spoke to Jack about his affinity to the tactic, how teammates make his role more effective, and much more.
To watch the full Beyond the Pitch interview with Kamal Miller, click here. Canada will close their opening window to the final round of World Cup Qualifying this Wednesday, September 8 at BMO Field against El Salvador. The match can be watched live on OneSoccer and Sportsnet from 7:30 pm ET.