Harrison, N.J. – It was almost exactly 13 months ago that New York Red Bulls 19-year-old center back Matt Miazga started his first game of the 2015 season, a 2-0 home win for New York over DC United. Miazga was solid that day against United but his rough edges showed too in a clumsy tackle that gifted DC a penalty kick that Chris Pontius would fail to convert.
Miazga was a well thought of prospect at the time but there few, let’s be honest, there were no pundits who would have been bold enough that day to predict the New Jersey native’s meteoric 10-month ascent from aspiring MLS player and U.S. youth international to full national teamer and Chelsea player.
And so comparisons were difficult to avoid on Sunday night when, in the same Red Bull Arena that Miazga so recently called home, Tommy Redding another 19-year-old U.S. MNT central defender came to town as a member of visiting Orlando SC. Redding and his club would head back to the Sunshine State on the wrong the wrong side of a 3-2 loss on Sunday night, but Redding can find hope in Miazga’s path.
GotSoccer spoke to Redding late Sunday night and even after a difficult match that saw the young defender taught some hard lessons by Bradley Wright-Phillips and the Red Bulls resurgent attack, Redding refused to hang his head.
“I think it’s very important for my development to be going against guys like him (Wright-Phillips) and David Villa,” Redding told GotSoccer in the visitors locker room at Red Bull Arena on Sunday. Redding believes that going against, “those really well-known strikers at such a young age, learning from those guys and learning their movements will only benefit me going forward.”
Like Miazga, Redding came to MLS on a Homegrown Player contract, unlike his elder, Redding signed before his club had even entered the league. In 2014, a 17-year-old Redding cut his teeth in Orlando’s USL side but the youngster saw the pitch just twice when the Lions made the jump to MLS last season.
Orlando coach Adrian Heath acknowledges that “it’s difficult for him, he’s learning on the job, at times,” but even after Sunday’s loss, Heath told GotSoccer, “we feel as if he’s developing.”
Playing time is key to that development and a look at Miazga’s route to a regular starting position in MLS could be instructive as we project Redding’s future.
18-year-old Miazga made his Red Bulls debut in 2013, although that would be his one appearance on the season. A year later the young back made six starts and came off of the bench once before losing the trust of then coach Mike Petke and spending the rest of the campaign rooted to the bench.
With those two appearances as an 18-year-old Redding has Miazga beat, and despite Sunday’s result Heath told GotSoccer on Sunday that, “we’re not worried about playing him now.”
Heath described Redding as, “becoming more and more of a figure in the team,” a notion in line with the teenagers thinking. “Last year,” Redding told GotSoccer, “was my first year in the league and I was just getting the hang of it and this year,” Redding explained without so much as a trace of irony, “I feel I’m more of a veteran, not so much just the young guy on the team.”
That feeling is a crucial part of the process, one Miazga went through last year at Red Bull Arena, and one he is just beginning at Stamford Bridge. Redding has represented the U.S. at the U18, U19 and U20 grade, recently playing three of the team’s five matches at the Dallas Cup, but the Orlando man has yet to have as defining an experience as the one Miazga experienced with the U20 team last year.
Miazga had been through a challenging U20 CONCACAF World Qualifying campaign before that first 2015 club start last March, and his growth was accelerated at the U20 World Cup last spring in New Zealand.
Redding doesn’t have that stage available to him but Heath believes, “if you’re playing well in this league opportunities are there for the young guys now. If they get in the team and play well, there’s a lot of eyes watching them.”
It’s not that he is itching to get out, as pointedly Miazga was, but Redding told GotSoccer, “ I think all the young players who make a name for themselves here and overseas are all inspirations to me and many other young players because they’re so relatable, just because of age, so guys like him definitely make it easier to push yourself.”
For now, the primary focus of that push will be to keep the job he has earned in Orlando and continue to progress through the U.S. MNT ranks, for now at the U20 level.
Like any young player Redding will have some rough moments, in fact, he had some yesterday. But Heath isn’t worried about his defender’s youth telling GotSoccer, “in Europe, you know what it’s like, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.” So far Redding has been good enough that Heath has left veteran MLS defender Aurelien Collin on the bench in favor of the youngster.
Heath sees in Redding someone, “who can develop into a really good center back, who can come out with the ball.” That fits with the passing style Orlando is trying to play and Heath adds that if Redding, “keeps listening, and learning, and developing, then he’s got a really big future.”
13 months ago Miazga was a promising young American with “a really big future,” still trying to prove that he was good enough for Major League Soccer. The hype machine had yet to click into gear around the New Jerseyan who is now going through the whole process all over again, only this time on a much bigger stage.
For Redding, that process is just beginning. How far can he take it? Let his coach tell it. “Oh, he’s a good kid. He wants to do well and we keep on at him every day, and he wants that.” “He wants to be a pro,” Heath told GotSoccer Sunday night at Matt Miazga’s old stomping ground, “so he has a chance.”