Kamal Miller – Player Analysis

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Canadian footballers operating in the MLS have been notoriously underrated over the years, but now with the nation putting themselves on the world stage, clubs across the globe should start to pay more attention to our greatest players. One of those who has announced himself on the grandest stage is CF Montreal’s Kamal Miller. Miller’s been arguably Canada’s best defender across the two opening group stage matches at the 2022 World Cup, serving as a nice compliment to his defensive partner Steven Vitoria at the back. With a range of qualities on and off the ball, Miller could easily be playing for a club in Europe’s top five leagues already. So with that, we aim to strengthen Miller’s case for a move across the pond.

POSITIONING & ROLE

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As a left-footed centre-back, Kamal Miller plays on the left-side of the defense whether in a back-three or back-four. With an evident quality on the ball to play progressive passes, Kamal Miller would be classified within our system as a ‘Sweeper’ due to his excellent ability to sweep in behind the defenders around him, usually lacking that same pace. This is a bit unorthodox for a left-centre-back in a three or a man of Miller’s frame and strength, but he’s much more likely to chase the ball backward and make recovery challenges, rather than stepping up actively to win the ball higher up. That role usually goes to Steven Vitoria for the Canadians, meaning Miller has more to do in covering for his mate if the 35-year-old defender finds himself beaten. The same could be said at Montreal, where he again partners an older figurehead in Ronald Camacho.

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This isn’t to say that Miller fails to excel in the areas of the game that would normally be associated with that ‘Stopper’-esque role. He’s solid in the air (61.9% aerial success in 2022), and sound in positioning himself to clear the ball out of danger. But again, his strength is in recovering for others, and timing his tackles to perfection. The 25-year-old achieved a career high 62.1% of his tackles in 2022, playing a pivotal part in Montreal’s success all the way to the MLS Playoffs. In this manner, he compares very similarly to someone like Jurrien Timber of Ajax, another ‘Sweeper’ who loves a recovery challenge. But while formidable in defense, there are very few defenders in the MLS who are better progressors of the ball.

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Miller completed over 69% of his dribbles across the 2022 MLS season, with 6.94 passes into the final third and 5.53 progressive passes. This means that the 25-year-old is not only responsible for making last-ditch challenges and covering for others out of possession, but plays an imperative role to his team’s ability to play out from the back. Here we see a countless number of examples toward the argument for Miller being something of a unicorn for both Canada and Montreal. He has to be on the radar of clubs across the globe, and those that remain unconvinced need only read further.

ATTACKING STYLE OF PLAY

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Montreal maintained 55% possession in the 2022 season, instilling a positive on-the-ball mindset in which they endeavoured to play out from the back. Miller was always key to that endeavour, showcasing his ability to progress the ball forward at every turn. No other defender in the MLS made more passes into the final third (6.94) in 2022, consistently helping his team to break opposition lines and beat the press. But Miller is not only an excellent passer, but a powerful dribbler.

One of the key advantages of playing in a back-three is the ability for the centre-backs to assess moments where they can carry the ball forward into the half-spaces. Miller magnificently assesses for these moments, and will burst into the space whenever he sees room to roam.

With the strength to hold off any opposition player, once Miller’s in full flow, he’s difficult to stop. As an anomoly in this manner, Miller will then often attract much pressure toward himself, which frees up space for others to receive. He can even play a give and go in moments like this, allowing himself to become something of an exciting ‘overlapping centre-back’

His speed and dynamism again aids his ability to roam forward off-the-ball, and make himself the most active member of the Montreal attack between the three centre-backs. While it’s not a regularity, don’t be surprised to see the defender pushing and probing all the way into the final third, and even creating the odd deep cross. He simply remains unafraid to enact his power in any way possible. The 25-year-old even chipped in with 2 goals and 3 assists for his team in 2022, always remaining a key set-piece threat.

Crucial to his desire to make the most of his ability, the centre-back wants to play forward whenever possible. That’s part of the reason why he boasts a lower passing percentage of 83.6%, as he’s never afraid to try and pull off the risky pass that just might come off for the better of his team. Once he wins possession, his first look is often forward, in an attempt to immediately set his team up for the transition. Some may look at this as a downfall or even rash decision making, but it’s worth reiterating that Miller’s ability to progress the play and break lines is what separates him from most centre-backs in the MLS. If he can then refine his forward-thinking attempts to an even greater degree, Miller’s career will only take off from here.

DEFENSIVE STYLE OF PLAY

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Even in a high-possession team, Kamal Miller always remains switched on and ready for what’s to come going the other way. He never shies away from a duel or a challenge, and wants to put his body in the way of even the most fervid of efforts. But even whilst always remaining active in defensive phases and up for any contest, ‘Sweepers’ like Kamal Miller tend to make fewer defensive actions due to the system and personnel surrounding them. They tend to only enact defensive brilliance when called upon, instead preferring to stay on their feet. Miller is relatively similar, having made fewer than 1 tackle per 90 in 2022. What’s more important to recognize when it comes to a player like the Montreal man, is the success and timing of those challenges (62.1% tackling; 67.1% defensive dueling, rather than the total numbers (0.55; 3.58).

But when speaking to his position, Miller is constantly required to make challenges of high-importance, even if not always in high volume. Whether it be in transition or in moments of doubt, the Montreal man must cover for the advanced position of an adventurous left-wing-back. His magnificence extends beyond just the pace and power to race back in, but the ability to maintain an appropriate distance until he can dive into that challenge and win the tackle. He’s looking for an error by his opposite number and/or the moment to pounce on a loose touch, ensuring he does not tackle just for the sake of it, but with the intention of regaining control.

As evidenced by his percentage points, Miller masterfully understands the necessity of when he needs to fly into challenges, as opposed to when he can stay on his feet, delay the situation and cautiously time his challenge.

He’s great at maintaining a low stance as he forces the opposition away from goal, ensuring he can quickly shift onto either foot. When the ball reaches the outer edges of the field, he again magnificently uses his strength to shield the ball away from the attacker.

Possessing not only the pace and power but an incredible work rate, Kamal Miller perfectly personifies that warrior mentality that John Herdman has inspired across the board with his team. Any time he finds himself beaten, he doesn’t dwell on the mistake. Instead, he races back in, and often wins the day.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

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Kamal Miller is a magnificent centre-back, offering a broad range of abilities in and out of possession for any type of team. He’s great at covering and recovering for others that find themselves out of position, often remaining that vital last line of defense in transitional moments. But he’s also a formidable progressor of the ball, possessing a wonderful power both on and off-the-ball to help his team break lines and break presses. The Montreal man deserves a move across the pond this January, but we’ll be happy to see him continue in Canada if no one’s willing to take the punt.


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So there it is! A tactical analysis of Canada’s Kamal Miller, after his solid displays at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Be sure to check out more of our World Cup articles, Player Analyses and even MLS content, and follow on social media @desmondrhys to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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