Striker Kenny Miller wants to make the most of his seemingly limited time left with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Miller, a former Scottish international slated to become a free agent under a quirky contract that expires at mid-season, hopes to start Saturday in the second of back-to-back games with the Los Angeles Galaxy at B.C. Place Stadium. He was deployed as a second-half substitute in the opening encounter last weekend in Carson, Calif.
“Obviously, it’s disappointing for any professional to sit and watch,” said Miller. “You want to go on that field and you want to be helping the team out and you want to be in a position where you can influence the game.
“If you sit and watch, it’s really frustrating, because you can’t do that.”
The Whitecaps (2-2-2) lost 1-0 to the Galaxy (2-1-1) last weekend. Not only does Vancouver want to avenge that loss but also earn its first victory in three games.
Miller’s presence in the starting lineup could come in handy because he leads the team in scoring with three goals and one assist in six appearances.
Coach Carl Robinson used Miller as a substitute last weekend to rest and refresh the 34-year-old Edinburgh native. Miller, who came on in the 70th minute, didn’t take kindly to the move.
“I want to play every minute of every game,” said Miller. “I don’t want to come off. I don’t want to sit on the bench.
“I want to play every game. He’s paid to make the decisions and that’s the decision he made, so you’ve got to accept it.”
Miller had off-season knee surgery, and Robinson, who is in his first season as Vancouver’s head coach after two as an assistant, made it known early in the season he’d rest older veterans, especially in road games. Captain Jay DeMerit stayed home for a road game against New England.
But Miller doesn’t see a need to rest for health reasons, contending he’s “probably the fittest” he has felt since joining the Whitecaps midway through the 2012 season.
If Miller does start, as expected, he’ll probably line up in a two-striker formation with Darren Mattocks rather than a lone-striker setup the club has used in the past. Robinson believes Miller and Mattocks play better inside rather than with one out on the wing.
The Whitecaps have only one win — a 3-1 home decision last season - in nine MLS meetings with the Galaxy. Robinson liked how his team played defensively last weekend, but wants it to produce more scoring chances against an L.A. team he feels has “an aura” because it has won two of the past three MLS championships.
If Miller does get more playing time, it could eventually help his chances of re-signing with Vancouver. Robinson, a former teammate of Miller with Wolverhampton in England, is looking for Miller to make an impact before the club offers him a contract extension.
Vancouver signed Miller to a rare six-month extension last October. In accordance with FIFA rules, he is now eligible to negotiate with other teams and has instructed his agents to pursue opportunities elsewhere. Despite persistent reports last year the striker wanted to rejoin his former Glasgow Rangers squad, Miller has insisted he wants to remain a Whitecap.
But he and the club haven’t started formal contract talks.
“There’s nothing, there’s no update,” he said. “On June 30, the contract runs out. Until then, if they don’t see it differently, that’s when it’s done.
“Six months ago, they knew what the situation was going to be and we just get on with that. The club, of they want to talk, then I’ll talk. If they don’t, then we don’t.”
In the meantime, Miller plays on — at Robinson’s discretion, with the Vancouver coach not offering any confirmation if Miller would start against L.A. Robinson said Miller’s playing time will depend on factors heading into each game between now and June 30. His minutes won’t be cut to give young players more action in preparation for his departure.
“A decision won’t be based upon any contractual status,” said Robinson. “It’ll be based on who I think will win us that game, and then (June 30), we’ll see where we go.”
Robinson admitted he was “sitting on the fence” on Miller’s status, adding he has already devised a plan with coaches and management based on this year and next. Dealing with Miller’s contract deadline will mark the first step in the plan.
But Miller isn’t the only veteran looking to reclaim his starting position. Midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker is anxious to play after sitting out the past three games. He missed the first two contests due to a concussion suffered in a freak off-field collision with a bicycle rack but was a healthy scratch last weekend in L.A.
Robinson said Reo-Coker has trained the right way this week, but the English midfielder contended he needs game action to stay at his sharpest.
“The best form of fitness is games,” said Reo-Coker.
But working against Reo-Coker is defensive midfielder Matias Laba’s return following a one-game suspension for receiving a red card against Colorado on April 5. Robinson was also pleased with the performance of central midfielders Gershon Koffie and Russell Teibert and suggested they’ll be called on again.
Teibert, a Niagara Falls, Ont., native, drew Robinson’s praise for his aggressive marking of famed Galaxy striker Robbie Keane, who leads L.A. with three goals and an assist this season. Robinson noted Teibert “got under (Keane’s) skin.”
The Vancouver coach and Keane have also been known to exchange unpleasantries on the field —but not for long. They’ve been close since they were teenage teammates with Wolverhampton in the mid-1990s.
“We do go way back,” said Robinson. “But for 90 minutes, he’s not my friend.”