In late May, when the Vancouver Whitecaps were struggling, the question of the day in the sun at the team’s practice field was whether Kenny Miller, the team’s million-dollar man, was about to bolt back to Scotland. Rumours had percolated. Miller, coming off a hamstring injury, dismissed the talk. He noted frankly that he was employed by contract – at the rate of $1.1-million (U.S.) for the season, the eighth-richest in all of Major League Soccer – through the end of the year.
On Wednesday morning, as the team enjoyed a day off, the Whitecaps announced they had signed their main man to a contract extension. But it is a peculiar one. Miller, a designated player, signed on for six more months, through next June, which is roughly halfway through the 2014 MLS season. The extension, though unusual, works for both sides: it gives the Whitecaps a central force for at least a relatively good chunk of additional time, and for Miller, who will be 34 this December, it gives him the chance with international transfer windows to head home and perhaps play a swan-song retirement season.
The Whitecaps acknowledged on Wednesday that Rangers FC, in Glasgow, had pursued Miller, as well as other teams, and the reason for the odd six-month deal was to facilitate a possible move back to Rangers. Miller, who is from Edinburgh, first played for Rangers in 2000, and then returned in 2008 for three seasons, during which he scored 49 goals in 81 matches. The Whitecaps deal, however, means Miller is tied to Vancouver and cannot chat with other clubs until his deal is done.
Miller’s time in Vancouver, which began last summer, started poorly. Jarred by the new league, the lengthy travel, the varied weather, Miller was a starter in just eight of 13 games. He managed four shots on goal. Two went in. He was benched for the one playoff game against Los Angeles and came on as a substitute in the last third, to little effect.
This year, after injury, Miller has been precisely the aging European veteran who the Whitecaps bet on. The 5-foot-10 striker has started 11 of 12 games and scored six goals, tied for 10th in the league. His presence is bigger than goals and has been crucial for the Whitecaps, who are 9-6-5 – fourth in the Western Conference and sixth-best in MLS. Miller creates room, most of all intimidating opponents and conjuring space for Camilo Sanvezzo, who leads the league with 12 goals.
“I think we have a special group of players,” said Miller in a statement on Wednesday.
Midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker, formerly of the English Premier League, said in a recent interview that Miller is the Whitecaps’ fulcrum.
“Kenny’s movement, Kenny’s involvement,” Reo-Coker said last week. “I know Kenny doesn’t get a lot of credit but people don’t realize how much of a big part he is our in our team, with his movement, and his footballing knowledge. He helps Camilo a lot. He holds up the play.”