Assertive and assured, Tyler Miller stepped up.
This probably wasn't the moment he had dreamed of -- the ball at his feet, and an opposing goalkeeper between him and the goal -- but it was one he was surely ready to make the most of. Northwestern and Indiana had played to a 1-1 stalemate in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, and in penalties, the Hoosiers had taken a 4-2 lead. Northwestern had to convert its final two kicks, and Miller, Northwestern's record-breaking senior goalkeeper, had to come up with a stop. But first, there was other business to attend to.
Miller ambled toward the ball and, just as an in-form striker would do, calmly blasted it into the upper left corner of the net. Seconds later, he was facing the other direction and punching the air after a diving save to momentarily keep Northwestern alive.
Most goalkeepers don't usually take penalty kicks -- much less take one, make one, and then save the very next shot from an opponent.
But Tyler Miller isn't just any goalkeeper. He's confident. He's six-foot-four. And as that moment showed, he's ambitious and unafraid.
Miller's senior season at Northwestern couldn't have gone much better. Sure, he would've loved to advance further in the NCAA Tournament or win another Big Ten title, but on a personal level, he was stellar. He conceded just 13 goals in 22 games, and earned a plethora of postseason honors, including Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year, for which he was a unanimous choice.
Miller was then invited to the MLS Combine, a showcase for top MLS-ready talent. He was even projected by some as a top-10 pick in January's MLS SuperDraft, and had a chance to be the first ever Northwestern player taken in the first round.
But in the meantime, another possibility arose, and it was an enticing one.
"I was approached by a contact that had several connections throughout Europe," Miller told Inside NU, "and he opened the door for me to go on trial [tryout] with several clubs in Germany. It was always something I was interested in pursuing, but never really knew how to go about that until this contact came along."
It was an opportunity he couldn't refuse. "I have always followed European soccer," Miller said. "I knew that's where many of the top players were, and thought if I could get over there, who knows what could be possible."
So even with an MLS Combine invite and a potential first round pick status staring him in the face, Miller recently made the decision to forgo the Combine, which begins Friday in Florida, and opt for the trials in Germany. Miller prefers not to identify specific clubs at the moment. But one trial began Thursday, and Miller thinks it went "pretty well."
The former Northwestern shot-stopper hasn't completely bypassed MLS. He has still entered his name in the SuperDraft, which will be held Thursday, Jan. 15 in Philadelphia (a 30 minute drive from Miller's hometown), and plans to see where he gets taken before making a decision. But he does not plan to attend. He'll likely still be in Germany.
Even just by testing European waters, Miller has probably made his name less attractive to potential MLS suitors. He is rated as either the No. 1 or 2 keeper in the draft class. But now teams will fear the possibility of a wasted draft pick. Miller even admits to the risk. "But there are risks involved with every decision I make from here through the end of my career," he said.
One of the reasons Miller is so drawn to Europe is that he and his talent can become more visible. Despite MLS' growth, scouts still spend the majority of their time at European stadiums or watching European games on television.
Additionally, Europe gives Miller more flexibility. "There is a lot of uncertainty when entering [MLS] through the draft," he said. "I could end up anywhere."
And in the end, he's still that same guy who converted and then stopped back-to-back penalty kicks at Lakeside Field: ambitious and unafraid. Miller is dreaming big. "I want to play in the best league in the world," he says. "Currently, that is in Europe."
However, just because Miller is dreaming big, he is still capable of thinking small. And that means staying grounded.
The decision -- MLS or Europe -- is anything but easy for him. Potentially being far from home, and specifically far from family, is the main thing making it so tough.
Miller said he had family members at roughly 10 of his 22 games this past season. And in general, it's clear that for the former Wildcat, it's not only about "me." Family is always attached. And Miller wants to keep it that way.
"One of the biggest cons [of going to Europe] is being so far from my family," Miller said. "My family has always been there to support me and watch my games. With the time difference, and how expensive it is to travel to Europe, it will be very difficult for them to come to many games."
While at Northwestern, Miller also developed a second family, his soccer family. "One of the most attractive things about Northwestern's program is the amount of chemistry we have," he said. "We do everything together. Some of my closest friends have come from this program, and I know that I will stay in touch with many of the guys when we all move on to our respective careers.
"I may not have gotten [those relationships] anywhere else. At first I didn't value this as much, but looking back, this was one of the most important things that benefitted me."
He also expresses a feeling that many people seem to feel upon graduating from NU. "I have met so many great people in my time at Northwestern, especially outside of the soccer world, that have influenced me, and still do."
Making the leap from the comfort of Northwestern to the somewhat unknown of Germany doesn't seem to scare Miller away though. He's even unfazed by the language barrier. In fact, unfazed, along with ambitious and unafraid, might be a pretty accurate way to describe Miller, both as a player, and, it seems, as a person.
Pretty soon, we'll know where Miller's professional career will begin. But nobody will know where it will end. And in this case, with uncertainty coupled with ambition, that's a good thing.