After breakout 2017, Miazga sees bright 2018
There is a lot of uncertainty regarding the direction of the United States national team at the moment as there is no head coach and no technical director. But regardless of whoever eventually takes charge, Matt Miazga has an excellent chance to be a big part of the team's future.
BY Brian Sciaretta PostedAS 2017 DRAWS TO A CLOSE, the arrival of another year is welcome news to American soccer fans who are looking to turn the page of a difficult period and look towards the future. Fortunately there are plenty of realistic reason for American fans to be hopeful this time of year.
December 22, 2017
December 22, 2017
There is no question that 2017 was a good year for Matt Miazga who established himself as a first team soccer player in Europe the past 12 months. He’s not alone either as many other young players have also stepped up.
Miazga, 22, was one of the best defenders in MLS with the New York Red Bulls in 2015 and his standout performance at the U-20 World Cup that year attracted interest from Premier League teams. In 2016 he sealed a move to Chelsea and made a pair of appearances. In the second half of the year he began the first of two loans to Vitesse in the Eredivisie but still did not see regular minutes.
But in 2017 all that changed. Early in the year, he broke into Vitesse’s starting lineup and helped it win the Dutch Cup for the club’s first ever major trophy. Then at the start of the 2017/2018 season he continued to start in both Eredivisie and Europa League games against opponents such as Lazio and Nice. With one more game remaining in 2017, Miazga has already eclipsed 3000 minutes played this calendar year for Vitesse across three top competitions.
“This year has been very good in terms of getting a lot playing time and continuing to develop and get better as a player,” Miazga told American Soccer Now from Holland. “I had a lot minutes in 2017 in league play and international play. Continuing to improve is the most important thing and you do that by playing regularly - not just once but twice a week, sometimes even three games. Getting that experience is different than just playing once a week. With Europa games, Cup games, and League games, there is a lot of pressure to consistently perform.”
But if 2017 was establishing himself as a regular European footballer, 2018 will likely bring about even more change for the New Jersey native. In June his loan to Vitesse will expire and he will return to Chelsea. This summer he will either try to break into one of the world’s biggest clubs or go on another loan – most likely it would be at a higher level of Vitesse.
“You always have uncertainty as to where you'll be after this season,” Miazga said. “At the end of the day, you're hear on loan so you have to perform well and then you go back to your parent club in Chelsea. Then who knows? You stay for preseason and fight for a spot in that squad or maybe the next opportunity will be another loan at against higher competition. Right now, I think everything is going according to plan. Chelsea is very happy with me. I am confident with how everything is going and everyone has their own journey and path to reach the top.
In Holland, Miazga is happy with his development. He is now playing left central defense as opposed to the right side where he played with the Red Bulls. That has forced him to improve his left foot and he is now more versatile in his ability to distribute out of the back. More importantly, however, the coaching staff believes he is growing into a leadership role and taking on more responsibility.
Miazga is also in constant communication with the coaching staff at Chelsea that monitors his progress via an app they created to track the stats and analytics for all of the many players the club has on loan. Then once every month and a half, the Chelsea sends members of its staff to watch Miazga play live and analyze matches on tape.
“I am always trying to improve every area of my game to be as complete of a player as I could be,” Miazga said. “So my passing out of the back has gotten a lot better, same with my maturity and my leadership on the field. The manager now sees me as a leader on this team. I am trying to be that commanding defender on the field. I am experiencing all these different types of games and all these different situations.”
Internationally could also be a transitional period for Miazga. The failure of the United States national team to qualify for the World Cup will likely have a dramatic effect on the player pool and central defense could be one of the positions most significantly reshaped.
Players of the previous cycle like Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, and Tim Ream could give way to a younger generation of highly talented defenders. Miazga is a core member of that group but there are others. Wolfsburg’s John Brooks is the most established American central defender but he has often been injured. But Cameron Carter-Vickers is now a starter on loan at Sheffield United, Erik Palmer-Brown recently signed with Manchester City, Justen Glad is one of the top young defenders in MLS and players like Walker Zimmerman and Tim Parker could get a look in January camp.
No matter who the next coach is for the U.S. team, he will have a plethora of players to choose from in the backline and Miazga believes that competition will be a huge benefit.
“There are a lot of good players up and coming and establishing themselves in European football,” Miazga said. “I am really good friends with Cameron. We've been partners for quite a while since the U-20 World Cup qualifiers in 2015 through the U-20 World Cup and U-23 qualifying. Now we started a senior team game together.”
“But on the national team, it is a friendly competition for spots. It's the best players in the country fighting for time. There are a lot of good young defenders. In the end, it makes everyone better. That's football and it's nothing personal. Off the field, we get along.”
But it is a difficult time right now for all American players, not just those that were part of the failed qualifying effort. There is very littler certainty regarding the direction of program as there is no men’s head coach, no technical director, and a lame-duck federation president. It probably will not be until the summer when the men’s program begins to take shape.
Miazga was part of the U.S. national team roster for November’s friendly against Portugal and had a standout performance in the 1-1 draw with Portugal and he will likely continue to be a part of the transitional period. No matter what, he believes that better times are ahead.
“In football you have to look forward, you can't dwell on the past. You can learn from you're mistakes, look in the mirror, take responsibility, and then look forward,” Miazga said. “Against Portugal, that's what we did. [Interim coach] Dave Sarachan did a really good job of establishing a really good vibe. Dave told us beforehand that anytime you wear a U.S. jersey, it's an honor and it’s a privilege. He told us to go out and play with heart and that's what we did.
“I think everyone is looking forward to it seeing how it all unfolds: who the next president is going to be and who will be the coach. But in the meantime, I just have to control what I can control and that's play my best football, and continue to grow as a player and person. If I continue to do that, no matter what happens on the technical side of things, I know that everything else will work out for me and fall into place.”