WATCH: CanMNT star Kamal Miller reflects on World Cup journey (Money Buys Happiness)
Canada and CF Montréal defender Kamal Miller joined the Money Buys Happiness Podcast (Presented by FULL SEND) to talk 2022 World Cup showing, coming up through Canadian youth soccer to become an MLS star, beefing Luka Modric in Qatar, and what's next on the road to 2026.
On being surprise drafted by Orlando City:
"During the combine, Orlando didn't even interview me, so I didn't even know that Orlando was a possibility. I got interviewed by Seattle, Cincinnati, New York Red Bulls ... I thought I would end up with the Red Bulls, for sure. I didn't really have a preference, to be honest. I thought I would go there, but then, on draft day, Orlando came in and I was shocked. Completely shocked. I hear, 'Defender from Syracuse...' and I'm like 'Hold on – two of my Syracuse teammates already got drafted, I'm the last one left!' I knew it was me. That was crazy."
Miller later added: "I thought I was one of the best centre-backs in the combine. I thought my stock was going to go way up. Usually Canadian players are (considered) internationals in the league but I was able to get domestic status, so I thought any club would be happy to have me, right? But it didn't work out that way. I was confident I was going to go to New York, and then they drafted two centre-backs ahead of me... man, it hurt. My mom could see me starting to slouch and get frustrated. But wherever you're meant to be is where you'll end up."
On the uncertainty surrounding his first MLS contract:
"I had an Irish coach and he was all about fitness. I was like, 'Damn, here we go again.' I'm running, damn near puking every session... there were five of us rookies who got drafted to Orlando and I'm the only one who got a contract. Slowly, they're chopping off guys and I'm getting to three days before the MLS home opener, and I still don't have a contract yet. The coaches aren't really like 'You're in, you're out' either so every day I'm like, 'Damn, is this my day?' Then I'm looking at other teams across the league and guys who got drafted higher than me are getting chopped, and guys who got drafted later than me are signing, so I have no idea what's going on. I just kept going, and they presented me a contract two days before the home opener, signed it the day before the home opener, and then I started the home opener."
On how Canada quickly built a brotherhood mentality:
"For such a big country, it's remarkable the relationship we all have. You'd think guys come from everywhere but no, it's pockets where guys come from. It's just automatically like brothers, like right away. We have so much fun. Sometimes we gotta tell ourselves to chill. It's part of the recipe to our success. Good vibes, no matter what. The competitive juices, it's like having younger and older brothers. You don't want to lose against your brothers so it's war! Then after training, it's all laughs. It carried us a long, long way."
On actually believing Canada could make a World Cup:
"I came in right around the time where John started saying, 'We're going to the World Cup. We're going to finish first in Concacaf.' He started saying that in 2019. Some of the guys who'd been there for a long time were like... 'Okay, let's see what happens, you know?' [laughs]. He just kept drilling it in our heads and we kept overcoming obstacles. We dealt with the smaller countries first and finally when we got to the U.S., Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, these types of teams, we just felt ready."
He added: "We respect John's journey. A lot of players look at the coach and think, 'You never put in any work in the game, you didn't play, you didn't do this, you didn't do that' but we saw what it took him to get there, and how everything he said that we'd do, we did it, so whatever he says, we feel like we're going to do it. The respect level and belief in him and the staff came because they proved themselves. We've got to respect it."
On playing Belgium in their first FIFA World Cup match – and Alphonso's missed penalty:
"One hundred percent, we were gutted. We put everything into it. We knew that Belgium was in a bit of turmoil, and some of the personal relationships between the players weren't there. This was the end of their golden generation, so it was now or never. It was nothing to lose, everything to gain for us, so we went out and did what we do against the rest of Concacaf. We paid so much attention to detail, and got the details right, but that's football. That's how it goes.
"We were all just pissed off at the fact that we felt like we took the game to them, and we let them sneak away with (a goal right before half-time). They never would have made those subs if it was 0-0, so it was something that we all felt like – and to this day we still feel like – it's just gonna bother us forever. Shout out to Phonzie for stepping up, weight of the country on his shoulders. It takes a lot of balls. We had full confidence in him. We see him bang PKs in training. But it is what it is."
On playing against stars like Kevin De Bruyne vs. Belgium:
"Definitely, it hits you the most when you're in the tunnel walking out and they're just there, but you don't wanna look at them. You're star-struck or something so you're just looking forward, getting ready for the game... but you can just see them right there! But once the whistle blows, it all stops.
"The first time was that game, Jan Vertonghen. He's someone I watched a lot growing up. During the corner kicks, I was talking to them, and they were cool. After the game, he came up to me and said we played very well, asking where we all play and stuff like that, and I ended up getting his jersey, we did jersey swap. That was the only one I got."
On beefing with Luka Modric against Croatia:
"That was funny. I really didn't think I was gonna get a reaction out of him! He's so well-respected, and to this day, he's like a saint, you know, but on the field, I would just push him. I was like, 'Move, bro' – he was trying to waste time and poke the ball away, so it was heated."
On Canada's first goal at the FIFA World Cup – too early in the game, though?
"Best moment of my life, honestly. That was euphoric. You can't make that shit up. You can't plan it, either."
"I've been in games where I felt like that before. You score early and you're like, 'Ah... you just woke up the beast.' But that game didn't feel like that. We felt ready for whatever they threw at us. That never really crept into our heads. But definitely on the field, you could feel a switch in the way they started pressing and the movement between their midfield three against our two. They started working their game."
On lessons learned from the World Cup
"After that Belgium game, I was like, 'Wow, that was really one of the first games I've played where my brain had to work faster than my body.' The movement of the players, everything is done to confuse you, especially as a defender. You really have to use your brain to get your body in the right positions. That's what I'll take away from it, for sure. I have to grow my game from a mental standpoint, being able to see the game, see those runs earlier, because the physical part is not a problem. For our first time at that level, going against these world-class attacks that have been playing together for four, five years now? It was a lot."
On playing in Europe and what's next after Montreal:
"I got a taste of that next level at the World Cup, and at times I was outplaying these big-money forwards, so I wanna go take a look ... there's a lot of solid clubs that said they've got me on their radar. It's tough for the MLS 'cuz these teams are mid-season right now, so it's easier to get a summer move, unless they think you're the right fit and they need you right now. It's a waiting game."