BLAINE, Minn. -- Recently acquired goalkeeper Tyler Miller said Minnesota United’s defensive performance in 2019 was a pleasing aspect in his trade from Los Angeles FC to the Loons last week.

That view would have been laughable after Minnesota conceded an MLS-record 141 goals over its first two MLS seasons, in 2017-18. But a makeover last winter transformed the United FC defense, which gave up only 43 goals in 2019. That was tied for fifth-fewest in the league, with Miller’s previous team, LAFC, leading the league with 37 goals allowed.

“You couldn’t be more pleased coming to a team like that with the defensive core; that is something that I valued in my decision to come here,” Miller said Tuesday. “I didn’t take that lightly because I saw how at LAFC, we had a great year defensively, but Minnesota was right there behind us.”

Miller said the trade talk started a week ago Monday; terms were agreed to on Wednesday, then he signed the paperwork Thursday. ESPN reported Miller’s new contract with Minnesota will pay him more than $300,000 in 2020, up from $77,000 with LAFC a year ago.

“I couldn’t be happier,” said Miller, a Woodbury, N.J., native who attended Northwestern University in Chicago. “I heard a lot of great things about the staff. I went to school in Chicago, so I was familiar with the Midwest winters and everything here, so I was actually pretty excited to get back to the Midwest.”

Miller steps in for Vito Mannone, who won MLS goalkeeper of the year after setting Minnesota records for wins, shutouts and saves in a season in 2019. Mannone turned down a salary north of $740,000 to return to the Loons.

One of the key pieces of the Loons’ defense is not yet in preseason camp. Ike Opara, the reigning MLS defender of the year, has been excused from training for personal reasons. He is expected to join the team by the end of the week.

Emmings official

St. Paul teen Fred Emmings said he was speechless for two minutes when learning in December that he would be the Loons’ first homegrown signing. “I couldn’t say anything,” the 15-year-old said Tuesday.

Emmings has been training with the Loons’ first team for years, but at first thought, “Do I belong here?”

“Over time, I’ve slowly made my way and integrated myself to the team,” he said. “It’s a good place to build off.”

Emmings will work with the Loons development academy Under-17 team along with training in the MLS side and potentially be loaned out to its USL affiliate Forward Madison (Wis.).

The St. Paul Central High School sophomore will stay enrolled as an online student as he lives a dream as a promising 6-foot-5 professional soccer player.

“I’m taking it day-by-day, one homework assignment at time, trying to get them in on time while also getting to training,” Emmings said. “ It’s all good. As hard as it is, I’m not complaining. There is nothing I’d rather be doing.”

Emmings, a dual national, will join Luxembourg’s youth national team for a camp and friendlies in March. He also has been a part of U.S. youth national teams.

Briefly

Right back Noah Billingsley did not participate in United training Tuesday as the 2020 first-round draft pick from New Zealand has had to iron out some paperwork. … Left back Chase Gasper is away with the U.S. men’s national team, where he has picked up a minor, non-serious injury, Heath said. Gasper is expected to meet the club when the Loons have two weeks of training in Melbourne, Fla., starting on Sunday.