AMSTERDAM – With an exciting first US camp under his belt, Halmstads BK right back Ryan Miller is turning focus to preseason prep for the new Swedish top-flight campaign, with a view to better things ahead than last season's 12th-place disappointment.
After all, there are those rabid HBK supporters to cheer up. The four-time Swedish champs have a bit of a mighty mite rep around town.
"It's a small club, but it's the only small club in Sweden that's won a championship," Miller boasted to MLSsoccer.com by phone, in a fashion sure to make the home faithful proud. "The fans are a little bit spoiled for a small club, they expect big things. When we have seasons like last year, they can't stand it. You feel bad walking around town because you're letting them down."
There have been some changes in Halmstad, with aims on making sure grandstand faces aren't so long this year. The fans aren't the only ones paying to expect more this season. Fresh from a No. 2 job with Allsvenskan champs Malmö FF, Barcelona native Josep Clotet Ruiz has been brought in to sprinkle some fútbol flavor into the local cuisine.
"They've gone out and got a new coach, a Spanish coach, so we have new philosophies and a new direction," said Miller.
The defender says Ruiz is still tinkering with his tactical recipe, but the manager is trying to instill a more free-flowing, skill-based style.
"We're not really sure how we're going to play," shrugged Miller. "We've experimented with all sorts of things in the preseason. I think the thing he wants to do is get the best 11 players on the field, and how they play is up to them. He wants everyone to use their creativity."
To help instill this new attitude, Ruiz has brought three Real Madrid reserve players over on loan. Miller says their presence is having the desired effect in the team so far, but it's too soon to consider them actual game-changers.
"When you get Spanish players, you know they're going to be very technical," said Miller. "They definitely encourage [skillful play] at training. They always want the ball at their feet, they always want to combine. They are young, so they've got a lot to learn, and they're small stepping into a physical league, so we'll see if they can make an impact right away."
[inline_node:329298]Miller was limited to cup play in short MLS stints with the Columbus Crew and D.C. United, but managed to make a difference in his rookie campaign in Sweden.
After earning a move up from second-flight Ljungskile, the 26-year-old Chicago area native saw the field for 26 of 33 league matches in his first season with Halmstads. He hopes for another step up one day, but doesn't expect it to come until he goes free next December.
"I've got two years left on my contract, so I have a while," said the Notre Dame alum. "I plan on playing out my two final years, and of course, I want to play at the highest level possible. If I can switch to a bigger venue, I'll do that. Scandinavia is a good window into Europe. There's always scouts at games. A lot of teams come here and grab players for cheap."
Miller came close to reaching the international level with his participation in this year's January USMNT camp. He did not get a cap at the end of it, but you won't catch the defender complaining any about the call-up.
He admits to being so stunned when the official email arrived from US Soccer that he first had to verify if it was real.
"It definitely took me by surprise," Miller laughed. "They hadn't [contacted me prior] and I didn't know how they went about it."
He knows how they go about things now, though. Boss man Bob Bradley was struggling with knee troubles throughout camp, but Miller assured that it never kept the coach from barking orders and encouragement.
"The experience was incredible," he declared. "The coaches are top-class. You can see how competitive [Bradley] is. He does a very good job of instructing people, even though he was limited physically. There was nothing that was going to stop him from doing what he does. And he was in pain, he was always in the training room."
With that influence now brought back to Sweden, Miller will start trying to earn his next US call when Halmstads open the 2011 season with an April 2 visit from Kalmar.
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