Matt_miazga_-_asn_top_-_isi_-__usmnt_vs._n._ireland_-_1_-_march_2021_-_john_dorton John Dorton/ISI Photos
Player spotlight

Miazga aiming to finish strong with Anderlecht as big summer awaits

Matt Miazga is one of the veteran players on the United States national team and has played for a wide variety of clubs in different leagues. But now he is search of stability at a time when he is leading Anderlecht back to top echelon of Belgian clubs. ASN’s Brian Sciaretta spoke at length with the New Jersey native.

BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
May 07, 2021
7:10 AM

EVERY PLAYER HAS a career path and a journey that is unique – often moving from different clubs, in different countries, all amongst the backdrop of different cultures. Matt Miazga is in the final stages of completing a season for his seventh different team, in his seventh different league, in his fifth different country. He’s played under a wide range of managers – from Jesse Marsch to Guus Hiddink to now Vincent Kompany at Anderlecht– and has seen a lot of what the game has to offer.

Miazga, 25, is no longer a young player but he’s not old either. His journey as a member of Chelsea’s “loan army” is well-documented and that has been the foundation for his transient career, thus far.

The Clifton, N.J native’s career is now entering a pivotal phase as he looks to explore moves that might take him beyond Chelsea, and also continue his transition into becoming a veteran leader.

Historically one of Belgium’s top teams, Anderlecht had been dealing with financial difficulties in recent years and last year finished in eighth place. Anderlecht is currently in the Championship Round, which is reserved for the top four teams in the regular season.

The goal this year for Anderlecht was to return to the top echelon of Belgian clubs and Miazga was a big part of that, helping the club to a third-place finish in the regular season. For the first time in his career, however, Miazga was truly given a leadership role – which he embraced.

“I was given a bit more responsibility at Anderlecht being an older player and trying to be a leader from the back,” Miazga told ASN. “I've taken more of a role to be that mature, experienced player. Before I was kind of that young guy still trying to earn my stripes within Europe.”

“It came naturally to me,” Miazga added. “I've always been that type of outspoken guy on the pitch or even in the dressing room sometimes...I just took it upon myself and, given that confidence from the management, to try to be that leader. My position in itself demands that, right? I'm just trying to help out my teammates and help the team, which is the most important thing.”

A large part of Miazga’s growth this season has been due to his relationship with Vincent Kompany – Anderlecht’s manager who was also widely considered to be one of the best central defenders of all time.

So far this season, Kompany has spent a lot of time with Miazga, individually, to work on various aspects of his game.

“I can't say enough good words about him,” Miazga said. “I've learned a lot on the pitch from a tactical standpoint as well as just off the pitch in terms of professionalism. It also comes with that leadership role, trying to be a good example for the young guys and being a good professional. On the pitch - what better way to learn and improve when you're head coach is one of the best defenders in his prime to play that position.”

There was also an episode early in the season when Miazga was starting for Anderlecht along with Kemar Lawrence at left back and Michael Murillo at right back. It wasn’t until Kompany’s comment pre-match comment when they realized that all three players had roots with the New York Red Bulls.

Over the course of the season, their roots with Red Bull have helped foster a bond that has formed the core of the team’s defense.

“The first time we started together - we didn't even notice it,” Miazga recalled. “Vincent was like - Team Red Bull. He's like we got three Red Bulls out of four on the back line. You guys know each other, so make sure you are communicating. I played with Kemar but I didn't play with [Michael Murillo].. Sometimes we talk about our MLS days. We obviously have that connection and I think that kind of helps us on the pitch because we're comfortable with each other and we all know where we came from.”

As Miazga attempts to finish this season strong with Anderlecht it will only bring about a critical offseason that could see him move beyond Chelsea – whom he joined in January 2016. After he made a pair of appearances in the Premier League that spring, he has spent time on loan with Vitesse, Nantes, Reading, and now Anderlecht. His current Chelsea deal is set to expire June 2022.

A lot has changed at Chelsea since he originally signed, and Miazga believes there are conversations to be had in the near future – and a return to Anderlecht on a permanent deal is also reported to be an option.

“The coach and director [at Chelsea] who brought me in, they've left,” Miazga explained. “At the time, who was going to rely on a young American centerback without much experience? That was the whole point of going out on loan - to get those experiences and get that growth as a player - and that's what happened.”

“Now I'm much older,” he continued. “Hopefully this summer is the time to see what's next, and I think we're going to have some important conversations within Chelsea and obviously my representatives to see what the plan is. I'm 25. I kind of want to get that stability now.”

In addition to sorting out his club future, Miazga’s summer will also involve the national team - which will play Switzerland on May 30 and then take part in the Nations League semifinals.

Miazga has been a regular under Gregg Berhalter since he took over in 2018 and has seen the team grow over that span. His biggest take away is how difficult it is becoming to get a call-up now due to the impressive strides made by the player pool – at all positions, including central defense. (he said: “It's the national team - no one is really guaranteed a spot, are they?”).

He notes that the team’s core is especially tight for many reasons which include the fact that so many have progressed through the youth national teams together and have known each other since an early age. He also points out that the pandemic has forced the team to spend a lot more time together during camps and various team activities have strengthened that bond.

“You have to raise your game and you have to perform - that ultimately can make the national team better,” Miazga said. “We're in a really good place. I think anybody with a football brain or football eye can see the progression this team has made and the identity that we've created. Now we have a really deep pool of players and players that are playing at a consistently high level with big clubs and big leagues.”

“It's also different because even during these pandemic times, we've spent more time in the hotel as a team,” he added. “Before, you’d get an afternoon off and be able to wander around the city. Now we do a lot of things together… Also, the core - or a lot of players now - we grew up playing with each other through the youth national teams and now we're on the first team.”

Miazga has come a long way since his days as a top prospect with the Red Bulls and at the 2015 U-20 World Cup where he was one of the tournament’s best central defenders. The ensuing years have seen him travel from club to club – mostly succeeding, but sometimes not.

But that has simply set the stage for him for what’s next in the years ahead potentially with a new club – and with the national team as it builds towards the 2022 World Cup.

“You go to all these places alone and no one's going to give you anything,” Miazga discussed. “You have to work for it. You have to earn the respect. At the same time, you have to feel good and feel settled off the pitch because that's also important, learning the language, getting a routine going - all these little types of things.”

“My journey is my journey - it's my own unique journey,” he concluded. “I'm really happy with it because I've learned there's been some routes that I've taken or things that have happened that I wasn't necessarily expecting. But ultimately, that's life, right? All these clubs I've been to have helped me grow into the player I am and as well as the person I am….I've been in times where I've been benched, where I've been playing really well, winning trophies. All of that was wrapped in a storm from going out to different countries and playing - trying to find stability. Now I think is the right time to find stability and see what's next.”

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