Miazga adds his name to deep U.S. centerback pool

By Ridge Mahoney

Just how deep is the competition at centerback on the current U.S. team?

Three winners of the MLS Defender of the Year Award -- Omar Gonzalez (2011), Matt Besler (2012) and Matt Hedges (2016) -- are competing for Gold Cup playing time and, presumably, backup spots behind John Brooks and Geoff Cameron, who will be back in the squad when Hexagonal play resumes in September.

U.S. head coach Bruce Arena has given extensive time to all three players in the tournament, as well as former Red Bulls Homegrown Player Matt Miazga, whose first full pro season produced 18 Eredivisie appearances and all five Dutch Cup games with winner Vitesse Arnhem. Miazga played on loan from Chelsea, as did about three dozen other players, so he's not concerned about where he'll be this season.

"I haven't found out yet," he said a few days after marking his third U.S. cap with his first international goal in a 3-0 defeat of Nicaragua. "Right now, I'm just focused on the national team and trying to contribute every time I step on the field."

Miazga, who celebrated his 22nd birthday last week, bypassed the college system followed by Gonzalez, Besler, Hedges -- as well as Cameron -- to sign with the Red Bulls academy program, and after helping its U-16 team win a national title, played 34 league games during three MLS seasons before turning down a Designated Player contract.

He also bypassed a chance to represent Poland, where his parents were born, after playing one U-18 friendly. In 2013, he played his first game for the U.S. at the U-18 level and competed in the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup before attaining his ambition of playing abroad.

In January 2016, MLS accepted a $5 million transfer fee from Chelsea, which kept Miazga for the second half of the Premier League season and then loaned him to Vitesse, which finished fifth and also won the Dutch Cup to qualify for the Europa League.

"That was a lot of fun, obviously, to have that great run in the Cup," he says. "We did well in the league, too, and it helped me a play a lot of games and for the team to have success."

The native of Clifton, N.J. is undaunted by the stiff competition at centerback and in the defensive corps overall. Of the six changes Arena made for the knockout phase of the Gold Cup, none were defenders, and all eight players have started at least one game in the tournament. Though Miazga has been overseas for a year and a half, and last played a U.S. game in May 2016 against Puerto Rico, he saw mostly familiar faces when he checked into camp three weeks ago.

'For the most part I knew all of these players before because I was called up a few times under Jurgen [Klinsmann], so I've spent some time with these players and obviously I know a a couple younger players from the youth national teams a little bit more," said Miazga. "I have a couple of former teammates on the team and I've played a bunch of games against most of these players. In camp, everyone talks to everyone, so there's good vibes and good conversations around."

In Miazga, Arena and the USA have something more than just another good-size (6-foot-4, 195 pounds) centerback. He moves smoothly and fluidly, can pass with either foot, is willing and able to battle the big forwards so common on the modern game, and as he showed against Nicaragua can put the ball in the net.

His header in the 88th minute from a Graham Zusi corner kick provided the 3-0 margin needed by the USA to top Group B. Since then, he's been on the bench for the quarterfinal and semifinal, and has no idea of his status for the Gold Cup final against Jamaica. He does know what the return of Arena has meant for the U.S. team as well as himself.

"He's been around the game a long time and obviously won a lot of titles and games and all that good stuff," said Miazga. "This is my first time working with him and any time I work with a new coach it's good to learn and hear a new perspective, get some different insights and different ideas, and tactics and philosophies about the game and in general.

"He sets the mood good in the changing room and around the team and around the camp. He likes to tell jokes and be a good guy, easy to talk to. He's always catching up with guys and speaking to them off the field about their lives. On the field, he does his thing and sets it up well. He knows what he's doing."

When asked what he thinks he needs to work on he gives the standard answer of all young players: just about everything. However, as one of three defenders to score goals for the U.S. at this tournament -- Gonzalez has two, Eric Lichaj one -- he had to let out a bit of his inner forward.

"I need to get better in every aspect, no one's perfect," he says. "But to be honest, I would like to score more goals. As a defender I want to be more dangerous on set pieces, get my head on more set pieces.

"Every time I go out on the field I want to contribute to the team, winning games and getting clean sheets. But I also want to contribute on both ends."
8 comments about "Miazga adds his name to deep U.S. centerback pool".
  1. Allan Lindh, July 25, 2017 at 11:20 p.m.

    If USSoccer had replaced Littlemann before the last World Cup like all us SA knowitalls told them too, we'd be a year ahead. Arena knows what he's doing, and a good guy. Littlemann was an ego-maniacal idiot.

  2. R2 Dad replied, July 26, 2017 at 5:02 a.m.

    Dude, you need to learn to let go. Are you still bitter about Donovan/2014? Maybe some meditation or deep breathing exercises will help? Harboring this anger for so long can't be good for your health.

  3. :: SilverRey :: replied, July 26, 2017 at 10:12 a.m.

    I, for one, am still bitter - that was no way to send off an American icon, denying him his WC swansong. Say what you will about his knee, I wanted he head and heart in a roster spot that was used to bribe Green to play for the US.

  4. Wooden Ships, July 26, 2017 at 12:25 a.m.

    Need to add Carter-Vickers to the mix.

  5. Thomas Cobra, July 26, 2017 at 1:11 p.m.

    Green is an excellent player but he has not had a call from Arena!
    What is that all about. He needs a look.
    I am still brewing about not having Donovan play in the last world Cup. That is why it is essential that US Soccer stay with US coaches for US teams. THe great coaching Minds in the world are not coming to the USA to coach our players. So have our coaches learn from the best in the world and develop their own skills. Arena is passionate and will get the best from our players. Klingsman set us back! As so many other non-American coaches have in the past! Make America Great Again.....US USA COACHES!!!!!!!!!!

  6. R2 Dad replied, July 26, 2017 at 5:45 p.m.

    I wouldn't mind US coaches, but US Soccer keeps picking the wrong ones--it's the same old retreads. Look at Michelle French--how was a coach like that allowed anywhere near a U team, playing kickball like that? Everyone is focusing on the USMNT coach, but for me I'd rather be able to wave a magic wand and let Keliban start with the U12s and institute his training, his player selection, his mentoring. Let him age up and backfill with coaches that use his methodology. After 10 years our U teams will be intelligent ball-handlers instead of just athletes. By then, the USMNT coach will have a much larger and better pool to choose from. I think THAT would be progress.

  7. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 27, 2017 at 10:25 a.m.

    I don't think Green has done enough to merit a US callup. He certainly hadn't done enough in mid 2014 to merit inclusion on the roster at the expense of the greatest player in US history. That was pure pettiness from JK.

  8. Dennis Mueller, July 26, 2017 at 1:56 p.m.

    Greene was injured when Arena took over and then had not so much playing time prior to the WC qualifiers, now he is looking to make his case for a steady starting spot in Europe. His situation has been anything but consistent or conducive to a MNT call-up.

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