Player spotlight

In his return to the United States, Miljevic striving to make impression with U-20s

Matko Miljevic is one of the most anticipated players on the new U-20 roster having played a role with an Argentinos Juniors team atop the Primera. ASN's Brian Sciaretta spoke with the No. 10 about his expectations for camp, the three national teams vying for his services, his club's success, and returning to the USA and Florida for the first time.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
January 07, 2020
11:00 PM
AS THE United States U-20 camp opens in Florida to start a new cycle with a new coach, there are numerous young players who are aiming to build a case to be part of the team’s future. Over the past three cycles, the team has performed well and players like Tyler Adams, Josh Sargent, Matt Miazga, Segino Dest and Zack Steffen have seen success at that level serve as an important step in transitioning into the full national team.

On the current roster, the most intriguing player is Matko Miljevic – and for good reason. While many players at this age level are trying to make the difficult transition from youth levels to the first team, Miljevic has already begun earning minutes with an Argentinos Juniors team that sits atop Argentina’s Primera at the season’s winter break. Argentinos Juniors is not one of Argentina’s traditionally powerful clubs but historically it has been one of the country’s best at youth development having produced players such as Diego Maradona, Juan Riquelme, and Esteban Cambiasso.

Thus far, the talented No. 10 attacking midfielder has already played five games for Argentinos Juniors and on August 31, he scored his first goal when his 11th minute strike was enough to give the team a 1-0 win over Gimnasia La Plata.

But can Miljevic, 18, be part of a team that wins Argentina’s title? It will be tough as Boca Juniors, Lanus, Valez Sarsfield, and River Plate are all within striking distance.

"We are a very modest team that tries to improve every day,” Miljevic said. “We know that to be champion we have to work hard and have a lot of conviction and a lot of positive energy. From when I debuted in the first division until now, I have grown a lot as a player. I feel that way and the coach tells me it, too."

But now on the international front, Miljevic will have an opportunity to play competitively in Florida for the first time in what will be a deeply personal experience for him. His parents are natives of Argentina but relocated to Florida during the Argentine Great Depression which ran from 1998-2002. It was there in the Sunshine State in Miami where Miljevic was born in 2001. The family would then return to Argentina when the economic situation improved.

This is not Miljevic’s first time representing the United States. He played for the U-16 team in 2017 at the International Tournament of Montaigu in France and that remains his only previous U.S. call-up. In September, former U.S. U-20 manager Tab Ramos attempted to bring Miljevic in for a pair of games in Slovakia but was denied a release from Argentinos Juniors.

This situation is now different and Argentinos Juniors agreed to release Miljevic to the U.S. U-20 team and he will get an opportunity to return to the United States for the first time since he left as a young child, and play in the state where he was born. Because of that, his family is also going to make the trip to Florida with him to celebrate and watch him play.

"I had been speaking with some people involved in the national team and they told me that in January there was a camp and that they were looking at me since in midseason,” Miljevic explained. “I couldn’t go because my club did not let me. The truth is that it is really great to return to the place where I was born. For that reason, my whole family is going to go because it is something very special."

With his recent success, doors have opened for Miljevic on many fronts – including at the international level. In 2019, he represented Argentina at different youth levels including the U-20 team. With his grandfather a native of Croatia, its federation has also reached out to him to discuss opportunities.

When discussing the three countries vying for him, Miljevic is non-committal at the moment.

"I prefer to not think about that right now, my entire mind is focused on playing and having fun like when I had fun playing as a six-year-old,” Miljevic explained. “As time goes on, we’ll see what happens."

But for now, Miljevic is wearing the U.S. jersey and is in his native Florida preparing to face Mexico twice in the current camp. He doesn’t know any of the players on the U.S. team but is aware and happy that American fans have been tracking his progress in Argentina.

He wants to make a good impression in Florida which should only further to strengthen his ties to the team, his teammates, and the country while potentially giving new manager Anthony Hudson an important part of a core group moving forward towards this summer’s U-20 World Cup qualifiers.

"I do not know any other player that is going to be in this camp but I am very enthusiastic to meet them,” Miljevic said. “The truth is that sometimes my mother or some member of my family tells me that in the United States they know me and that fills me with satisfaction."

"The expectations that I have for this camp are first to get to know my teammates and be able to put together a good group,” he added. “And on an individual level, make them see the best version of Matko Miljevic."

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