Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala:
For a while, Dwayne Miller looked like he could possibly drown in Jamaica's deepening pool of quality goalkeepers, especially since he was locked behind captain Donovan Ricketts for the starting role in the national senior football team.
Even when Miller replaced the injured Ricketts in Jamaica's first World Cup qualifier against Guatemala on June 8 at the National Stadium, publicly, the swap seemed temporary, pending his friend's recovery to full fitness.
But four World Cup qualifiers later, and going into tonight's return clash with Guatemala here, Miller has snatched the chance to be Jamaica's number one, and based on his performances so far - and barring injury - it appears unlikely that Ricketts or any other keeper in the national pool will be taking it back from the 25-year-old anytime soon.
For Miller, the transition from backup to leading man has come as no surprise. When it did, he was ready. Yet, he is also confident he has the backing of the national goalkeeping crew, including the man he replaced.
TEAM COMES FIRST
"In this profession, things can happen at any time," he explained. "I try to just prepare myself the best way possible for any time the situation presents itself.
"I'm a person who always has an open mind," Miller added. "I am a team person. So whatever the coach decides, I just go with it. If he (head coach Theodore Whitmore) wanted Ricketts to be there, I would give Ricketts my full support, and I know (Ricketts) is fully supporting me right now."
His track record indicates that he has been going well. Miller has been between the sticks for the majority of Jamaica's friendly internationals over the past few years - starting in 2009 against Colombia - as a myriad of reasons, including injuries and club commitments, have kept Ricketts away from the Reggae Boyz. He has had plenty opportunity to claim the starting job and earned the coach staff's confidence.
"We are really impressed with the skill of Miller," said assistant coach Alfredo Montesso yesterday. "He is a player that is getting a lot of maturity. His personality on the field is giving the team a lot of confidence."
Being drafted in as first choice for the qualifiers did not alarm Miller, nor did it alter his approach.
"I've been playing the position over the past few years," Miller said. "So, for me, it's nothing new."
Combined with his successful stint playing professionally overseas, currently for Syrianska FC in Sweden's top league, Miller's claim on the national starting job has been an easier road than expected. But he refuses to take anything for granted.
"It's a privilege to represent my country," he explained yesterday from Jamaica's team camp here. "I'm very fortunate to get the opportunity to be playing now."
Jamaica has been lucky to have him. Miller has been outstanding in the qualifiers. After conceding a late free kick against Guatemala in June, he has risen to the challenge, helping Jamaica to keep a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw with Antigua and Barbuda.
But it was the two games against the United States last month that Miller embellished his status as Jamaica's top goalkeeper. The second match in Columbus, Ohio, especially in the torrid first half when the US attacked relentlessly, brought out his best, even in the 1-0 loss.
The American players, including English Premier League starting keeper Tim Howard, publicly praised Miller's performance.
Yet, Miller downplayed his overall effort, insisting he was just doing his job.
"It was just another game," he said. "That was the next game so that was the most important game. For me, it was just about going out there and trying to keep a clean sheet. It's nothing beyond that."
Tonight, he must step up again. Miller acknowledges he can never take his job for granted, not with Jamaica's emerging goalkeeping talent. For now, however, he is number one.
"I believe it's Miller time," said Montesso.