Miller reflects on new role in pilot team
Reese Miller took the field at Aveva Stadium on Sunday for the Houston Dynamo Academy in their fourth pilot game of the year as the program prepares for expansion in 2022.
The Dynamo fell to the Chicago Fire 2-1 following a late goal from outside the box, but for Miller the scrimmage was another opportunity to adapt to a much higher level of competition that will facilitate a new pathway to the Dynamo First Team.
Miller has started in all four of Houston’s pilot games and navigates the transition to outside back after spending the bulk of his six years in the Dynamo Academy in the midfield. The 17-year-old has learned to adjust to new roles and responsibilities as the oldest age group in the Academy opens the door to players like Ethan Bartlow and Tyler Pasher to earn key minutes as part of their recovery.
“I’ve had a great experience playing with new guys and having some first team players come up and play with us, it’s really been nice to open our eyes and see what the next level of competition is,” Miller said. “Being able to compete and play with them really ups our level a lot and just an overall great experience. You got to think so much quicker. It’s definitely a mind game and you just have to think five steps ahead.”
Miller sparked the first opportunity for Houston on Sunday as he found Mateo Bajamich behind the Fire backline, but his effort just missed the inside of the crossbar in the 10th minute of the game. Miller finished with key tackles and interceptions throughout the match as he logged another 90-minute shift.
Sunday’s scrimmage also featured midfielder Ian Hoffmann, who was a constant presence on both ends of the field with well-timed tackles and passes into the attacking third. The 20-year-old lined up next to Juan Castilla, the fifth player from the first team to face the Fire on Sunday.
Juarez looks to capitalize on new opportunities
Houston’s lone goal of the game came in the 62nd minute after Jathan Juarez whipped in a ball that caught the Fire backline off balance. Bajamich made a run between two defenders, and they collided with the Argentine forward in an attempt to clear the cross. The ball bounced off the defender behind Bajamich into the back of the net.
Juarez joined the Dynamo First Team for preseason earlier this year and the outside back looks to earn more competitive minutes with the expansion of MLS Next in 2022. The 18-year-old was one of the most dangerous players on the field for Houston and led the charge in the final minutes as the Dynamo searched for an equalizer.
“I took a lot of things away from my time with the first team earlier this year and you know, it’s a learning experience for me. Now I know what the bar is, I know the difference between this level and that level,” the 18-year-old said. “I would say that this is probably the best competition that we will come against. I think this expansion is going to be very solid. We are going to have players from the first team in every time we play. So, it’s going to make us better and we have to raise that bar in a very different environment.”
Dynamo head coach Tab Ramos and his entire technical staff made their way to Aveva Stadium less than a handful of hours after arriving in Houston following their third and final meeting with Minnesota United on Saturday evening.
Juarez and the rest of the rest of the Academy players that saw the field on Sunday took notice, but the presence of the first team staff at their matches is a new norm following the arrival of Ramos in 2019.
“It means a lot to see the first team head coach here,” Juarez added. “They’re looking at us, they’re engaged and invested in our success. So, we have to do our part when we go to that side of the facility and adapt to the players that join us through this process.”
Bartlow navigates two bubbles in first season
Defensively, Bartlow logged his fourth appearance for the pilot team and navigates his return to the first team after a right hamstring strain has limited his time with the senior squad.
“Obviously, I hadn’t played in a good amount of time so, I think getting back out there and completing some passes and making some tackles, that can do wonders for your confidence,” Bartlow said. “It’s good anytime you can get 90 minutes in, and then seeing the young kids progress, it’s clear we have some talent. Then some of us first team guys got a good shift in today and we are all working toward the same thing.”
Bartlow has appeared on the gameday roster two times this season and the center back looks to build on his performances with the pilot team that is scheduled to face the Fire next month in Houston.
Balancing two teams has been a unique challenge for Bartlow who joined the Dynamo earlier this season in the MLS SuperDraft.
“I think it was a little awkward at first, when I’m in with the first team and when I’m in with the U-23’s,” Barlow said. “I think it’s been good for me to build my confidence physically on the ball, but the feedback I have received has been good, and hopefully I can build on that going forward. I think for me it’s just about getting minutes and trying to do my best. Obviously, first team minutes are the goal but, if I’m getting minutes here, I am happy with that.”