Scouting Report For Chelsea Fans: Matt Miazga

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by DAVE MARTINEZ

While New York Red Bulls fans agonized over the loss of Matt Miazga this weekend, Chelsea FC fans were asking “Mate, who is this lad?

For those Blues fans who have been left wondering, here is an overview on your newest player.

WHO IS MATT MIAZGA?

Miazga, 20, is a Clifton, N.J. native and the son of Polish immigrants. A standout in the New York Red Bulls Academy system, Miazga was singled out in 2013 by then team Sporting Director Andy Roxburgh as a must-have signing for the club.

In May of 2013, the wily team boss acquired his man, luring Miazga away from college and other sporting opportunities to join the Red Bulls.

“Matt, a gifted centerback for the U.S. Under-18 National Team and a graduate of our youth academy, is one of the brightest prospects in U.S. Soccer at his age and in his position and we will do our best to help him realize his undoubted potential,” Roxburgh said. “From the outset, I declared our intention to encourage and promote local talent and adding Matt to our roster despite competition from European clubs, provides further proof of that commitment.”

While a promising pick up, Miazga’s initial time in the professional ranks were defined more by his growing pains than his contributions to the club – a characteristic common amongst many teenage players. He made his professional debut as a late game sub against the Houston Dynamo in 2013 – his lone appearance on the year (he did, however, make the 18-man roster 13 times).

The next season was a trying one for the hopeful USMNT product. Injuries and international call-ups allowed Miazga to eke his way into the starting XI. There, the young centerback managed to turn heads in his first true professional minutes.

However, his deficiencies were on display as well. Like most teenagers, Miazga exhibited a lack of urgency playing against his peers. His marking was loose. His role, undefined. While New York still managed to earn positive results with their young defender in play, Miazga’s form ranged from promising to shaky at best.

After his fourth start, tragedy hit. Miazga ruined his streak of starting minutes with an unnecessary, frustration-fueled tackle on Lee Nguyen of the New England Revolution, earning a red card for his troubles. His season effectively ended on that play as head coach Mike Petke kept the young centerback off of the Red Bulls 18-man roster for the rest of the regular season.

On the field, it was clear the young defender was not ready to break through as a regular starter. The gangly defender struggled with focus, positioning and understanding of his role within the larger construct of the club. Off the field, frustrations boiled over for him as well, with several sources telling EoS he was driven to tears on a pair of occasions due to his shortcomings and issues with team leaders.

He ended the season with seven appearances and five starts.

Experience, maturity and a change of guard on the sporting side of the club finally created the atmosphere Miazga needed to reach his potential, making for a memorable 2015 season. As injuries ravaged veteran starter Ronald Zubar at the start of year, Miazga filled in for the Frenchman and eventually overtook his starting centerback role.

For the first time since signing a professional contract, the young Polish-American defender was finally able to translate his talents into the professional realm. A key point-man in the Red Bulls gegenpress offense, Miazga not only thrived last year, but did so while playing a complicated and challenging role in the club’s new and dangerous system. Displaying a versatility few knew he possessed, Miazga become a central part of the team’s success, earning 24 starts in 26 appearances and helping to lead New York to their second Supporters’ Shield trophy in three years.

STRENGTHS

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

Miazga went from being yet another underperforming MLS Homegrown product to the cornerstone of the league’s Supporters’ Shield winning champions – and it was easy to see why.

In American terms, Miazga was the “quarterback” of the Red Bulls gegenpress system, controlling the club’s movement from the backline. Consistently the last line of defense, Miazga became a key ball winner and distributor for New York, quelling attempts at  counterattacks while springing the offense from his own defensive third.

The once-gangly teenager grew into his body in 2015, displaying an athleticism and intelligence that set the tone for the team’s tactics. He showed a deft ability to calmly win and collect possession. As the last line of defense, he was also tasked with the unenviable role of guarding some 30-50 yards of open space while New York deployed their press. Despite that dangerous role, Miazga showed the calm and confidence of a symphony conductor, quelling the crescendo of opposing attacks and guiding his men towards the next course of action.

Another aspect of his game which went largely unrecognized was his uncanny ability in distribution, where he did everything from pinging passes from the backline in breakout sequences to simple one-touch combination play with his fellow defenders and midfielders. His ability to check and restart on the ball became a key cog in New York’s buildup, bringing an element of calm to an otherwise relentless and chaotic attack.

Moreover, Miazga proved intelligent in his ability to backtrack and challenge for second balls – an invaluable talent for the high-risk Red Bulls system. Even when beaten to the ball on his first challenge, Miazga always managed to keep himself in a position to rebound and try again – a talent that vexed players like David Villa and Giovinco last year.

WEAKNESSES

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

For all of that growth, particularly on the mental side of the game, there is room for improvement — just as there would be for any 20-year-old defender.

Miazga, at times, lacks a sense of urgency and focus. Perhaps that is a product of age. Maybe it is the lack of week-to-week pressure that defines the MLS regular season.

In fairness, this was a bigger issue for him in 2014 – a season where he didn’t figure greatly into the club’s plans. Under Red Bulls boss Jesse Marsch, Miazga found direction, force-fed strict parameters and responsibilities in a system that helped bring out the best in the young centerback. More times than not, Miazga was able to meet the challenges of a complicated role. Still, there were moments where he lost focus in critical junctures. His lack of marking and concentration against the Crew in the Eastern Conference Finals played a small part in a pair of crucial Columbus goals in the first leg of their series. Even though the Crew failed to score in the second leg, Miazga also struggled to contain striker Kei Kamara in the second leg, allowing critical chances throughout the evening.

Like any teenager, Miazga has bouts with controlling his emotions as well. That has earned him three red cards in two years of play. However, a loose-cannon he is not. The Red Bull Academy product is generally a positive, bright eyed young man who is eager to learn. He is a down to earth individual — one who still lived with his parents as of last year. There will be no sense of ego or entitlement when he meets his teammates in Chelsea. Still, he tends to lash out in times of desperation, and that will have to be reined in over time.

Finally, Miazga doesn’t seem to realize he is 6’3″ tall. The towering defender plays a softer, more intelligent role as a centerback than his height tends to suggest. In short, he is more apt to distribution than destruction. While MLS play is defined by its physicality, the combination of aggression and talent at the Premier League level will present the biggest challenge to the young American prospect.

In order to survive and thrive in England, Miazga will have to balance his strengths as a distributor with an intelligent aggression to stave off the world’s greatest attackers

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

OVERALL …

If you are a Chelsea fan hoping Miazga is the immediate answer to John Terry, you will need to dial back your expectations. Yes, he is the most promising defensive prospect in the U.S. National Team pool. However, there is a learning curve attached to him that needs to be respected in order to properly cultivate his talent.

Miazga needs to be challenged on a week-to-week basis to succeed against the speed of play in Europe — and find a mean-streak while he is at it. Throwing him into the fire of the Premiership may not be the best way to do that. Now, Miazga has proven his critics wrong in the past. No one expected him to become as dependable, intelligent and invaluable a contributor as he became with the Red Bulls last season. However, MLS and the Premier League are two different beasts, and forcing him into the pressure cooker will not be the best course of action, either for the Blues or Miazga.

Chelsea have already stated they will keep him in camp and observe him with the first team. That is a proper first step into his introduction to European football. However, by the start of the 2016-17 campaign, Miazga needs a development plan to take him to the next level. Whether that is a loan somewhere in Europe or perhaps a fringe role in the Chelsea 18, Miazga needs to be put in a week-to-week pressure filled situation to properly steel him for the challenges to come.

If properly developed, he could be a realistic challenger for minutes by the age of 22. If not, Chelsea will struggle to find a reason for his addition in the first place.

 

 

 


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