Player Spotlight

Miazga embracing the quick transition to USMNT leadership role

Matt Miazga has gone from one of the national team youngsters to a veteran leader almost overnight. ASN's Brian Sciaretta spoke with the New Jersey native about his quick transition, his Red Bulls past, his Nantes present, and much more. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
October 09, 2018
4:00 AM
FOR MOST TOP PLAYERS on a national team, they are brought in a young age and gradually work their way up to being a team veteran. But in these weird times for the U.S. national team, the past year has seen a lot of change within the team.

That changes has had a significant impact on Matt Miazga. He earned his first call-up to the team in 2015, a mere months after a standout performance at the U-20 World Cup. At that point he was seen as one of the promising young players. After limited involvement through 2017, the New Jersey native has almost instantaneously become one of the team’s veterans.

For U.S. interim head coach Dave Sarachan, Miazga has been a cornerstone of his team a wave of new players has been introduced into the new arena. While still just nine caps into his own international career, Miazga is embracing his sudden transitions from a young newcomer into a veteran, leadership role.

“When I was first getting called up, I was 20 and playing with that generation of very recognizable players - Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore,” Miazga told ASN. “I was just trying to earn their respect and get experience. Now there are younger players and I view my role more to be a leader, to be that vocal and demanding presence in the back, to help the young players when they come into the team.

“That's always my goal, to be a leader, to be a future captain. I have my goals and I am going work hard to achieve them.”

Miazga’s vocal presence on the team was on full display last month when the United States defeated Mexico 1-0. The defining image of that game was when Miazga got into an altercation with Mexican winger Diego Lainez and subsequently mocked his height. Minutes later, a flustered Mexico committed a foul that resulted in a red card.

The important take away from the moment wasn’t that it helped the U.S. team win, however, but that it showed that Miazga can be looked upon as a player who can step up at important moments.

“To be honest, it is totally normal for me. If you ask any of my teammates, they know I like to trash talk. There is something a bit Jersey in me.. as you can see, sometimes it works. At the end of the day, it's football. Little incidents like this happen. There is no disrespect.”

On the field, Miazga also brings a deeper resume than most players on the U.S. roster. At just age 23, he has already played in the top flight league in four different countries.

As a teenager he won the Supporters Shield with the New York Red Bulls. He played briefly for his parent club in Chelsea, he won the Dutch Cup and Europa league playoff for Vitesse (the club’s first ever trophy in its long history), and he is currently on loan in Ligue 1 with Nantes where he is the team’s starting central defender.

Nantes has struggled at the start of the season but Miazga remains optimistic that the club will turn around soon. Individually, he believes he is in the perfect spot to take the next step in his development as a player.

“I always compare Ligue 1 more with the Premier League in that it's direct,” Miazga explained. “It's a top five league in the world and produces a lot of top players. Many top player in the world have come out of Ligue 1. There are a lot of big clubs here. It is high intensity and high paced. You can't take plays off and you have to be in tune at all times. You feel the pressures of European football and it's good. It makes you better. I've been enjoying it so far.”

Miazga is encouraged seeing that many of his U.S. teammates have taken the next step in their career by moving to Europe. He still, however, has a lot of affinity for his first club, the New York Red Bulls, which he joined at the U-14 level in 2009.

The Red Bulls and formerly the Metrostars has been the starting point for many top American players including Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Tim Ream, and Tim Howard. In addition to Miazga, other players from the Red Bulls organization have made inroads with the national team the past year – and that is something that Miazga is proud of regarding his former club.

“You see Red Bull has produced so many players from the academy to the first team that have done some big things,” Miazga said. “You have Tyler Adams now. I knew of him at Red Bull when I was younger. I got to know Aaron [Long] at the last camp and he's a player you got to see his growth at the Red Bull system through USL and now performing very well for the first team. I've known Tim Parker from the Olympic team and got to know him well the past camps. You see a lot of players come out of the Red Bull system and make it to the national team. That shows how good Red Bull is at developing talent and helping them move forward with their careers.”

One of the biggest talking points from the current national team involves the return of former Metrostar Michael Bradley to the team. Bradley, of course, has had some impressive accomplishments with the U.S. team dating back to 2006 but was still the captain of the failed World Cup qualifying campaign. Now at age 31, it was always a question as to what his role would be with the team moving forward.

With a young core established, however, Miazga believes there is room for Bradley to help with the new players that have come on board.

“To be honest, I think it's good,” Miazga explained. “I've known Michael. We've shared a few camps together and played against each other in MLS. We've had a good relationship. I remember he took me under his wing when I first got onto the team. He was very helpful and was the captain. I think it is great that he is back in the mix with this group of players because he has a ton of experience. It's always good to have a many leaders on a team as possible.”

Of course the long term vision of the program could take another sharp turn soon when U.S. Soccer names the new head coach.

During the last camp, Miazga says he spent time speaking with the team’s new general manager, Earnie Stewart, who was around the team throughout the entire camp. The general mood on the team is upbeat regarding Stewart’s vision.

And while that vision will come more into fruition in 2019 under the next manager and the years ahead, Miazga believes that Sarachan has done a good job establishing a new, young core group of players while seeing the team through one of the toughest parts in team history.

“We don't even look at him as an interim manager,” Miazga said. “I look at him as the manager of the United States national team - because that's technically his role. He's earned a ton of respect. He's done it all at the MLS level and has been part of the national team level for many years - including that experience on the '02 World Cup as well. He's a good coach and we've been having some good camps under him. I think he's done a good job bringing everyone together at a time when U.S. Soccer is technically at a low point. There is a lot of pressure and he's galvanized the group.

“We're all confident players,” he continued. “We’re all players that are shooting for the stars in terms of our careers. A lot of us are playing in Europe and challenging ourselves in top level environments. You want to come into camp as a good player individually and when we come together as a group, you want to be a better national team and move this nation forward in terms of football. I think coach Dave has done a great job bringing new players in - players who are hungry and looking to establish themselves.”

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