Heading into the 2017 season, the Harrisburg City Islanders had some question marks at the goalkeeper position for the first time in half a decade. Club legend Nick Noble was still on the roster, but he had spent the 2016 season splitting time with Keasel Broome. With Keasel departing to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the offseason, it was unclear who was going to be spending time between the posts on City Island in 2017.
This question was answered in March when the Harrisburg front office announced the signing of 2015 USL Goalkeeper of the Year Brandon Miller. Miller had set USL records during his time with the Rochester Rhinos in 2015, but he didn’t find the same level of success when he moved to Orange County in 2016. His signing with Harrisburg offered a return to the East coast and a chance at a fresh start.
The City Islanders rounded out their goalkeeping corps by signing Sean Lewis just a few weeks later. Lewis was not as highly touted a signing as Miller, but it was far from his first professional experience. He joined Harrisburg after seasons with the NASL’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers and also Olympia FC Warriors in Tasmania.
Playing goalkeeper for Harrisburg in 2017 was ultimately a bit of a thankless job. The Harrisburg defense struggled to keep up as teams like the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ottawa Fury joined the league. These team’s deeper pockets meant that more attacking talent was on display.
2017 was also the first year that the team played all of their home matches at FNB Field. The time required to convert the baseball field into a soccer pitch meant that Harrisburg’s home schedule was highly condensed and most games were played on short rest.
Despite these disadvantages, Miller and Lewis both performed well for the City Islanders that year. Miller received the majority of the starts, but Lewis always put in a strong performance when he had the opportunity to make the starting XI.
The high point of the season for the goalkeepers was when they each earned USL Save of the Week honors in back to back weeks. Lewis earned his first for a spectacular double save against Saint Louis FC.
Yes, 2017 was one of the years that Saint Louis FC was in the Eastern Conference.
Not to be outdone, Miller earned the same honor just a week later for his point blank stop on FC Cincinnati’s Djiby Fall.
Ultimately, Harrisburg would concede 47 goals in 2017 on the way to an 11th place finish in the Eastern Conference.
During the offseason, Miller returned to his hometown of Charlotte to sign with the Charlotte Independence. He quickly took the position of first choice goalkeeper with the team, but Charlotte faced many of the same struggles as Harrisburg. The team missed the playoffs in 2018 and 2019.
Lewis remained in Harrisburg for 2018 as a part of the newly rebranded Penn FC. After the team announced their hiatus at the end of the season, Lewis headed to Oklahoma to sign with the Tulsa Roughnecks for 2019. Heading into this year, the Roughnecks underwent a rebranding of their own as they became FC Tulsa.
Fun fact, every USL team Sean Lewis as played for has rebranded during his second season with the team.
Now, in their third year since playing together at Harrisburg, both Brandon Miller and Sean Lewis have each had excellent seasons with their new clubs, despite all the difficulties that 2020 has managed to inject into professional sports. They’ll each kick off their playoff runs just hours apart on Saturday night.
Miller has been a game changer in his third season at Charlotte. He had five clean sheets in 2020, and his 61 total saves this year leads the entire USL. Not surprisingly, these saves have earned him further save of the week nominations as well as Team of the Week honors.
There was even one week where Brandon and Sean went head to head (the ultimate winner that week was Ben Lundt).
Miller’s efforts on the pitch helped Charlotte finish in first place in Group G, topping Birmingham, North Carolina, and Memphis.
But more important than his efforts on the pitch in 2020 were his efforts off of it. Brandon has been working on bettering the Charlotte community by donating to Heal Charlotte after each match, donating higher amounts when he hits his performance goals. He has also stepped up as a leader for the entire USL by helping form and support the USL Black Players Alliance.
Sean Lewis has been having a career year of his own as he fully embraces the role of FC Tulsa’s first choice goalkeeper. His 51 saves for 2020 were just behind Miller and good enough for third in the USL. He also managed 4 clean sheets while FC Tulsa only allowed a total of 16 goals in 15 games.
Lewis’s 2020 performance highlights include multiple save of the week nominations, though he didn’t manage to get a win in 2020.
FC Tulsa’s tough defensive presence was good enough for a second place finish in group D behind San Antonio FC.
2017 was the last year that Harrisburg’s USL team played as the City Islanders, and it’s unfortunate that just a few years later the majority of the team’s roster is no longer playing professional soccer. But that season’s team has clearly managed to produce two top class goalkeepers who remain some of the very best in USL.
Brandon Miller and the Charlotte Independence kick off their playoff run tonight at 7 p.m. against the Charleston Battery. Once that match has wrapped up, you can tune in to see Sean Lewis and FC Tulsa go up against El Paso Locomotive at 9:30 p.m. Both games will be available on ESPN+.