Evan Miller is a difference-maker. When he is on the soccer field, Southold plays a little more under control, and with a little more confidence.
That’s only understandable, given what a player of Miller’s caliber can do. A midfielder with unquestioned skill, he is smooth and possesses a good soccer sense, the sort that comes from years of honing his craft.
“He’s pretty much the definition of an impact player,” Southold’s summer league coach, Lucas Grigonis, said. “If the ball’s on his feet, there are usually two or three guys trying to get at him, and that creates space for everyone else, and that’s what we’re trying to figure out, how to have everyone else add to what he can do on the field.”
Miller certainly did a lot on the field last fall for Southold’s school team. He tallied 17 goals and was named an all-state player as a junior.
Looking back on that school season, Miller said he is happy, for the most part, with how he played. “A couple of games I could have played better, but there’s nothing I can do about that now,” he said.
But Miller is doing something about preparing for his upcoming senior season. In addition to playing for Southold’s summer team, he has also been kept busy by playing for the Lake Grove United under-17 club team and working out in the gym. As a result, he said, he has improved his speed. “I’ve definitely gotten faster,” he said.
Miller was not among Southold’s starting 11 for the team’s Town of Brookhaven Summer League game against Miller Place at The Wedge in Mount Sinai on Monday evening, but there was a good reason for that. He made it to the field shortly before kickoff, arriving straight from New Jersey, where he had played in a tournament.
It wasn’t long, though, before Miller was inserted into the game and he did what he usually does. He possessed the ball well, using his dribbling ability to buy time for himself and teammates as he explored his passing options.
Miller had 21 touches, completed all 14 passes he attempted and put two of the three shots he took on goal for saves by Noah Varonier. The only other Southold player who took a shot was Drew Sacher.
“He can really challenge a defense,” Grigonis said of Miller. “As the defense starts to concentrate on him, it opens up other things for us.”
Miller Place (3-1) won, 1-0, on Mike D’Agati’s redirected goal about four minutes into sudden-victory overtime.
Southold’s goalkeeper, Kenji Fujita, could not be faulted for the goal. The First Settlers (1-3) could be thankful that Fujita’s play saw to it that the game went to overtime in the first place. Among his six saves were a nice one-handed stop of a drive by Nate D’Agati in the first half and a nice parry of another shot by Nate D’Agati later in the half.
“He’s been good,” Grigonis said of Fujita, a junior who took up goalkeeping as a freshman. “He’s still fairly young at the position. He still has a lot to learn, but he’s got the natural talent and eye for it.”
Fujita said he has been helped by assistant coach Kyle Romeo, who himself was one of the best goalies to ever come out of Southold. In addition, Fujita said, he watches a lot of soccer.
Southold graduated six players from last year’s school team, but more than twice that many return from the squad that went 9-7-2, losing to rival Port Jefferson in the Suffolk County Class C final.
“Six guys did leave, but still, we do have a lot of returning players,” Fujita said. “I mean, Evan Miller is pretty good, Drew Sacher is pretty good. We have a lot of good players that are coming back.”
Grigonis said the summer league has been productive. “It’s always a process,” he said. “You start off rusty, but you shake it off as the season goes on.”
Among the Southold players who have made an impression on Grigonis are center midfielder Will Richter, midfielder Drew Sacher and defensive players Ryan DiGregorio and Rob Melley. Another player, Sean O’Donnell, scored a hat trick in a 4-1 defeat Smithtown Christian on Friday.
Some might not take the summer league too seriously, but Miller see the value in it.
“It’s really important,” he said. “… Right now is really the beginning steps of getting ready for the [school] season.”