The 2020 USL Championship has come and went. It was a roller coaster of a season for fans, club staff, and players alike. In this ongoing series I’m calling 2020 Exit Interview, I plan to focus on how individuals in the soccer-verse have viewed this wild year. I hope to look back on what various people have experienced both on the pitch, in the stands, or elsewhere, and how the year and all of its craziness has changed them. In this first interview, I was able to chat virtually with Charlotte Independence goalkeeper Brandon Miller, a Second Team All-USL performer in 2020. He answered questions about the 2020 season, how a teammate’s podcast lead to the USL Black Players Alliance being created, and how he is preparing for an offseason that will be strangely similar. Without further ado, here is the interview…
Looking back on the 2020 season.
Goose: What are your initial feelings about the unconventional season that just finished?
Brandon: There are a lot of mixed feelings when talking about the 2020 season. Personally, I felt like I made a lot of strides on the field and grew a lot as an individual off of it. The season didn’t end the way any of us would have wanted. We found our rhythm towards the end of the season and we definitely felt like we could have gone further in the playoffs. As far as the unconventional season, there were positives and negatives but overall we were all just happy to be able to play this season.
This is a call to action to every @USLChampionship @USLLeagueOne @USLPlayers @MLSPA @MLS @NISAmerica player, coach, and organization. Go beyond your statements and turn those words into action. We are ready to do our part & we implore you to do yours! #EnoughIsEnough pic.twitter.com/GmqlvKmJ8K
— Brandon Miller (@DVOtwosix) June 5, 2020
G: Did you have any moments where it was difficult to focus on soccer considering the pandemic and the heightened awareness of racial injustice in America? If so, what helped you stay focused?
B: There were definitely plenty of moments when it was difficult to focus solely on soccer. I’ve always done my best to compartmentalize but when it’s all you see on the news, social media, and everywhere you go, it becomes hard to use the soccer field as a refuge. There were times when I had to decide, is soccer really bigger than the moment? Is soccer distracting me from making a bigger impact in my community? I sat down and had many discussions with many people I consider mentors and friends. They all expressed similar sentiments that soccer is what has afforded me a platform to use my voice and be a leader. As I continue to play, hopefully my platform grows and I can be even more impactful than I am now. That’s why I continue to play and that’s why I continue to do the work I am doing off the field.
G: What did you learn about yourself as a human and about yourself as a soccer player?
B: The answer is one in the same. I can do more. My ceiling is as high as I place it. It’s all about mindset and I challenged myself at the beginning of 2020 to be a better soccer player. I set goals for myself and then I put the work in necessary so that I could achieve those goals. I can be honest and say I didn’t achieve all of them but I feel like I shot for the stars and ended up in the clouds. The same goes for me as a human. I realized around March or April of this year that I wasn’t doing enough and I challenged myself to be more of a leader and lead by example. I feel like I’ve done that and so now the goal is to push on and do more.
G: What aspects of the odd season did you enjoy (if any)? What parts did you dislike?
B: There were multiple aspects I enjoyed. As a goalkeeper, games aren’t as physically taxing for me so I loved playing on a more consistent basis. Getting the opportunity to get back on the field right away after a poor result really forced me to have a short term memory but also allowed myself and the team to keep momentum going when we were playing well. I also loved having my own room when we traveled…but that was just a minor perk. I would say the few things I disliked about the season all had to do with travel. There were a couple trips we traveled on game day which I’ve never been a fan of. I also don’t like being cooped up in the room on away trips. I’ve enjoyed playing soccer so much because it takes me to places I wouldn’t normally go on a consistent basis. I like to explore those places when I get the opportunity but with COVID restrictions we weren’t able to do that.
USL Black Players Alliance is born
G: When did you know in your gut that it was imperative to start an organization like the USLBPA? Was there any conversations with players or off the field events that made it a priority in your agenda?
B: The Backyard Footy podcast episodes that featured USL & MLS players discussing their shared experiences is what sparked the idea. Hugh and I had plenty of conversations after those episodes and those conversations then extended to other black players around the league. Once the MLS guys announced they were forming, we realized it was time we do the same.
G: How would you explain to a non-soccer fan (a friend or a family member) why the USLBPA is important?
B: The USLBPA is important because we are focusing on issues that are often pushed to the back burner within our sport. You can simply look at the power structure within US Soccer, MLS, and the USL. There are very few executives, general managers, head coaches, etc. that look like myself or the other members of the organization. Our mission is to change that. Not just for ourselves but for the generations to come. We want to provide role models for that next generation to aspire to. People often discount the importance of seeing someone that looks like you excel in a field you want to succeed in. I became a goalkeeper full time because I loved watching Shake Hislop and Zach Thornton play when I was younger. I figured if they could do it then I could too. We have to improve the diversity at the highest levels of our sport off the field in order to truly be an inclusive sport. We are also an organization that aims to give back and improve our communities. We’ve already partnered with a number of organizations that are focused on diversity and equity and we want to use those partnerships to be impactful in every city we represent. If we don’t focus on the issues we deem important then history has shown that no one else will.
G: What is your role in the USLBPA?
B: I am an executive committee member with the USLBPA. We have been tasked with leading the group in order to develop partnerships, initiatives, and funding for our organization. Our group has ambitious goals and my role is to help facilitate a successful path to achieving them.
G: What has been the main focus since launching?
B: The main focus has been organizing our goals in a way that are digestible and attainable. As a group, we have a lot of great ideas that we have to organize and prioritize. The number one mission is improving diversity in our sports. We’ve been developing partnerships and aligning our organization with people/initiatives that are focusing on the same thing. We are slowly developing the framework for a massively impactful organization.
G: What is the main goal this offseason and what are the long term goals?
B: The main goal this offseason is to get everything organized. We have a board of directors that each focus on different aspects of the organization and we want to develop those roles. We plan to strengthen our partnership with the league and with individual clubs in order to get the ball rolling on some of the initiatives we have planned. Long term, to put it simple, improved diversity at every level of soccer in the United States. We also have a plan to develop resources for our members beyond the pitch; this is both a short and long term goal.
G: What makes you optimistic that you will accomplish those goals?
B: We are a group of over 100 black professional soccer players. Our collective voice is powerful and we have the support of quite a few people/organizations. We are in a unique moment in our country where people are beginning to open their eyes to just how inequitable our society has been throughout history. We’ve shown, individually, that we can be impactful. Now I feel confident that, as a group, we can do the same on a larger scale.
G: There is a lot of uncertainty moving forward in regards to the pandemic and how that might impact the 2021 sports calendar. How does it feel to be a few weeks into the offseason considering that unknown?
B: Nothing really changes for me. The offseason looks like it will be extended a bit longer which isn’t ideal but you can either complain about it or take advantage of it. I’m already back into my routine of training and getting my work done off the field. I can’t control what the league decides so my only focus is continuing to improve as a goalkeeper and as an entrepreneur.
G: You partnered with Heal Charlotte during the 2020 season to raise money for their 10 million dollar capital campaign. Is that a partnership you plan on doing next season? What other partnerships do you plan on in the future?
B: I recently joined the board for Heal Charlotte so that is definitely a partnership that will continue for a long time. I am excited about everything we have done so far this year and everything we have planned in the future. I will also continue working with the Young Investors Society which is a financial literacy program. Myself and the USLBPA are working on a number of initiatives with them which we will announce in the coming months.
G: Are there any offseason community events on the calendar or in the works?
B: We just announced a fundraising initiative with Heal Charlotte and Famous Toastery. The restaurant chain has committed to donating 15% of sales when using our code “HEALCLT” for online orders at any of their North or South Carolina locations. We are also working on a number of events at local breweries/restaurants, NoDa brewing being one of them. There will definitely be more announced in the coming months so stay tuned!
ICYMI: @HealCharlotte1 & @FamousToastery are teaming up to fundraise for the Heal Charlotte capital campaign. Use code "HEALCLT" at checkout for your online orders & 15% will be donated directly to the non-profit organization. Thank you to Famous Toastery for making a difference! pic.twitter.com/q1PT5ZmXWm
— Brandon Miller (@DVOtwosix) November 6, 2020
That concludes this edition of 2020 Exit Interview featuring Brandon Miller. You can find Brandon on Twitter @DVOtwosix and USL Black Player Alliance on both Twitter and Instagram @USLBPA. If you liked what you read, don’t hesitate to reach out and let me or Brandon know. Did a certain answer surprise you? If a specific part stood out to you be sure to share however you see fit.