With a series of international friendlies on the docket U.S. Soccer jump started this busy period of international activity Sunday afternoon, when the federation released rosters for the full U.S. MNT, U23 and U20 squads.
19 year old Matt Miazga missed out on a U20 call, but it’s understandable, the central defender is busy at the moment with his club team, the New York Red Bulls.
“Yeah, club obligations,” the 6’3” defender laughed when GotSoccer asked if he had been expecting to be left home. The youngster responded as he stood ringed by reporters in front of his locker, following Sunday’s 2-0 shutout victory over DC United, still not quite comfortable with this part of the profession.
“I thought you guys were gone,” was the defenders opening remark once he emerged from the trainer’s room, fresh from a recuperative ice bath. No fear of that, the 19 year old had played his part in the Red Bulls 2-0 home opening victory over DC United, now it was time to meet the press.
Sunday wasn’t Miazga’s first start for the Red Bulls, the New Jersey native made seven appearances in 2014, six as a starter, after signing a professional contract a year earlier.
But Sunday was Miazga’s first start since last August, when a rash tackle on New England’s Lee Nguyen earned the youngster a red card, and a seat on the Red Bulls bench.
GotSoccer spoke one on one with Miazga after Friday’s practice at Red Bull Arena, and we asked if his recent experience with the U.S. U20’s had helped him prepare for the rigors of the MLS season.
“Yeah, definitely,” Miazga replied. Miazga was a regular starter for the U.S. throughout January’s CONCACAF Championships, which also served as the World Cup Qualifying Tournament for the Confederation.
“At the qualifiers I got more confident, and it helped me to develop to get those international games.” Qualifying for the World Cup from the CONCACAF region is often downplayed by those unfamiliar with the heat and humidity common in countries like Honduras, where those CONCACAF Championships were held. And then there are the field conditions, and the sometimes “excitable” home fans to consider.
Jurgen Klinsmann and a couple of his Germerican recruits found that out the hard way when the U.S. dropped a 2-1 decision to Honduras to open the final round of qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup. On that scorching February day in 2013, a heavy legged U.S. side fell 2-1 to Honduras.
German born fullback Timmy Chandler was so put off by the experience that he seemed to reconsider his decision to play with the U.S. At the time Chandler was favored to claim the right fullback spot, but when he stayed away from the team for an extended period, Chandler needed a late surge to earn a subs role in Brazil.
The U20’s looked like avoiding any similar drama, winning its first three matches in January. Miazga and his teammates were set to secure an automatic qualifying spot by finishing on top of its group, but suddenly it wasn’t that easy.
First the U.S. allowed the host nation to snatch a late draw, stopping the Americans from clinching that World Cup berth. Then a shocking 1-0 loss to Jamaica forced the U.S. into a playoff, where they drew the rugged Jamaicans again.
When the rematch ended goalless, it took a penalty kick shootout for the U.S. to earn a spot in the U20 World Cup.
Miazga called the near collapse, “a learning experience,” admitting that, “we kind of let our guard off. “The first two games,” Miazga said as he searched for the right words, “I mean, qualifiers are tough. People don’t realize how tough it is.” “Playing against those opponents, the atmosphere, the fields, the crowds, they are all tough.”
“We all stuck together,” Miazga said of the U20 team, and that trait is no less valuable for a senior club side than it is in a international youth team.
On Sunday Miazga’s veteran teammates stood by the still developing prospect, after his late foul conceded a penalty that could have cost the team the shutout. Miazga called his challenge, “kind of naive,” adding, “me and Dax talked about it after the game, and that’s the good thing about it, I can talk about it with the guys and learn how to improve on it.”
DC veteran Chris Pontius launched the penalty try skyward, taking Miazga off the hook. Afterwards the aforementioned Dax, as in team captain McCarty, said, “Matt played really well.” As for the penalty, the captain felt that Miazga, “got caught a little flat footed, but he’s going to learn from those things.”
Goalkeeper Luis Robles also said that Miazga, “did very well,” and echoed his captain’s statement that the center back needs to continue his soccer education.
“He’s at such a young age,” the keeper said, “that I think he needs to continue to learn and to cultivate his professionalism.”
Miazga was putting in the hard work during last Friday’s practice at Red Bull Arena, when he was the last player off the pitch. Miazga stayed behind working on the finer points of his game while his veteran teammates sought refuge from the unseasonable New Jersey cold.
Red Bull Sporting Director Ali Curtis has shown himself unsentimental when it comes to building this Red Bull team, famously replacing popular and successful coach Mike Petke with Jesse Marsch. Curtis has been similarly quick to move out players that don’t fit his vision, but Miazga remains.
Curtis calls Miazga, “ a very talented player,” saying, “we have to find a way to continue to present opportunities and to put him in an environment where he can grow and develop.”
“We have a customized plan for Matt,” Curtis told GotSoccer on Friday. The national team fits Curtis’ plan, and the Sporting Director also wants, “to find experiences with our first team, so that Matt can continue to develop and to grow.”
For Miazga, it is a bit simpler. “I don’t know what that plan is,” the young center back told GotSoccer on Friday, “but I’ve just got to prove myself every day at training and try to impress and play well and get better every day.”
Sounds like a plan.