Matt Miazga Discusses His Good Run in Netherlands
March 08, 2017
THIS TIME LAST YEAR Matt Miazga was on cloud nine.
The Clifton, N.J., native had established himself as one of the best central defenders at the U-20 World Cup, won the Supporters Shield and an MLS Best XI nomination with the New York Red Bulls, and was part of the U.S. national team program. And then European powerhouse Chelsea lured him to London.
What a difference a year makes. Miazga is not currently part of the national team program and consistent playing time is proving difficult to come by—even at Dutch side Vitesse, where he is now on a season-long loan. Miazga is undaunted, however, and believes this is all part of the process young players need to take if they want to succeed in Europe and play alongside the best in the world.
“I had a good string of games earlier in the season but for whatever reason I wasn't playing a bit anymore,” Miazga told American Soccer Now from Arnhem. “That matures you and helps you as a player because you realize, 'Wow, sometimes things don't go your way in football and you have to find a new answer.' For me, I was training very, very hand and working hard off the pitch as well after training to get back into the squad.
"In football sometimes you get lucky and you get another chance. I've gotten my chance this past month and I've made sure that when I got my chance against, I wouldn't let it go. So far I've performed really well and it's been going well.”
Miazga, 21, saw his opportunity come on February 11 when central defender Maikel van der Werff went down with an injury. Added to the starting lineup, Miazga promptly put in his best performances since coming to Europe in 2016—two strong showings that earned him a spot on the Eredivisie Team of the Week in several major publications.
Last week he went the distance in a 1-0 win over Sparta Rotterdam in the Dutch Cup semifinal. That was significant in that it gives Vitesse a chance to play for its first major trophy dating back to its founding in 1892.
“We have never won a trophy in the whole time the club has existed,” Miazga said. “It's also been 25 years since we've been to the final of a competition. It's good and the whole city is excited. Everyone is very happy at the club. For me it was also another 90 minutes to continue to progress. At the end of the day, it would also be another trophy I can add to my case. I already have two Supporters Shields and now hopefully a trophy for the Dutch Cup.”
If Miazga can remain in Vitesse’s starting lineup for the remainder of the season, including the Dutch Cup final on April 30, it will set up an interesting second half of the year. He could begin preseason with Chelsea, who have closely monitored his progress, but his performance at Vitesse could also earn him a spot on that squad or set up another loan to perhaps a bigger league in Europe.
“When that time comes, we’ll get together and see what’s best for me and the club,” Miazga explained. “I signed for Chelsea to play for them one day. I do know that is a process in itself. I had the opportunity to be part of the first team squad last year. Now I am on loan, developing, and learning but the goal is to play for Chelsea in the future. When that time comes, we’ll evaluate it but right now I am focusing on Vitesse, getting games, and winning games here.
“I’ve been in contact with Chelsea a lot,” he added. “The coaching and the loan program is very good. They keep in touch with you usually after every game. They even have an app on your phone and they analyze each game you play. They analyze all of your touches, all the plays that you’re involved in, they tell you what you can do you better, where to improve, and what you’re doing well. They monitor all the guys on loan.”
The Dutch league has been a good landing spot for many young Americans—Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, DaMarcus Beasley are three of the most prominent examples the past decade. It is also the home of American prospect Desevio Payne and, until recently, Rubio Rubin.
Noted for its emphasis on young players, Miazga believes the Eredivisie has added new aspects to his game.
“It's been very good,” Miazga said. “Obviously it's very different from MLS and the Premier League. In Holland it's very technical and there are a lot of young players. Holland is a very good place for developing. I'm learning a lot. The coaches really focus on playing out of the back and playing a very technical game. I am learning different tactics as well. It’s a different league and a different culture off the field as well. I feel like I’ve matured as a player and as a person off the field.”
If Miazga continues to progress, it is possible that he could return to the U.S. national team sooner than later. He made his first-team international debut under former head coach Jurgen Klinsmann in a World Cup qualifier that cap-tied him to the United States. At that time, Poland—with whom he has dual citizenship through his parents—was showing interest.
Miazga says there is “no bigger honor” than to represent his country and he is hoping to get back into the fold but he has no indication when that will be. In the past, he was in frequent contact with Klinsmann but has yet to hear from new boss Bruce Arena. In an online forum in December, Arena did say he was monitoring Miazga’s progress.
For now, Miazga is pleased with where things stand. He is confident from his recent performances and he still followed the progress of American soccer from the Netherlands. In particular he was excited about the U.S. U-20 team's upset win over Mexico and the start of the season for his former club, the New York Red Bulls.
He is proud to represent American soccer in Europe and acknowledges that he took a challenging career path because signing for a top club like Chelsea requires a very high level to get on the field (which he did twice in 2016).
Despite the obstacles ahead of him, Miazga hopes others follow in his footsteps because he believes the talent is there and that it will only help to elevate all areas of American soccer—including MLS.
“It’s definitely different playing every game and then coming to Europe but I’ve made it known I came to Europe to test myself and challenge myself and play against top European competition,” Miazga said. “As a professional you always have to be sharp and when you’re not playing, you have to work even harder to improve weaknesses so that when you get a chance, you’re ready. That’s the toughest part because you can get frustrated when you’re not playing, and get mad. But you have to continue to be professional and as a young player you have to be patient. When you get that chance, all your hard work will determine it. It’s hard. That’s just the reality.
“There are a lot of good players in America and the more that come here to Europe in order to challenge themselves, football will grow back in America. It will help [MLS] too as well. There are a lot of different aspects in that. We’re growing.”