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Alex Lynch writes a detailed scout report about the latest sensation from the USMNT, Matt Miazga.
When the MLS made the new home grown player rules, everyone knew it would benefit the US National Team. With Jurgen Klinsmann helping get young players from other countries in the meantime, the academies were supposed to start producing players for the future as well. The academies are working so far, with young stars Gyasi Zardes and DeAndre Yedlin coming into the MLS and then the US National Team. The York Red Bulls Have one of the league’s best academies due to their location and continued success. The New Jersey and New York area, the Red Bulls main fan base, has produced stars like Tim Howard and others. The newest young star from the Red Bulls in this past year was a homegrown player who helped them win the league in the regular season. His name is Matt Miazga.
Miazga is from a family of Polish immigrants, and he was born in Clifton New Jersey. Clifton is a medium sized city in New Jersey, with a population of only 84,000 Much less than New Jersey’s biggest cities Trenton and Newark Miazga embraces his Polish roots even though he is a U.S. citizen. He can speak English and Polish effectively, and he visited Poland many times growing up. His link to Poland has always been strong, and he even considered playing for their national team. Because of his unique Polish heritage and connection, he grew up playing football unlike most Americans.
He was quickly spotted as a youngster in New Jersey, and joined the Red Bulls academy in 2009. He was 14 when he first joined the Red Bulls, and has played for them ever since. Since then his rise to stardom has been rapid. At the age of 16, he won the u-16 academy championship with Red Bulls in 2012. A year later, in the spring of 2013, he signed a homegrown contract with Red Bulls. Instead of attending an American college, he took advantage of the MLS new rules and signed right away. When he signed, he became the 8th homegrown player in their history. When he signed the contract, Miazga was on the US U-18’s, who he chose over the Poland U-18’s. For the U.S., he played in the world junior championships in Portugal. This helped Miazga get noticed by the Red Bulls senior team. Miazga made his senior debut at the beginning of the 2013-14 season as a substitute. It wasn’t until this past season that Miazga was given a chance to play in the first team consistently. He took full advantage of his chance, and he ended up winning the U.S young player of the year after the season. An incredible achievement for a player who hadn’t had a national team cap before the season. Miazga was a key part of the regular season champion Red Bulls.
Miazga plays like a typical center back. He only attacks on set pieces and stays back in defense most of the time. Miazga had everything you want in a centre-back. He has great size, standing at 191cm (6’4), and as a result of his very long legs. His size allows him to have a lot of success on the pitch. Miazga is a great aerial defender, along with being an aerial threat on set pieces. Miazga won almost 5 aerials duels per game last season, a lot for any defender. His first goal of the season was a header on a set piece. On the goal, Miazga rose up above the NYCFC defense and headed the ball into the back of the net. His height made the header very easy for him to finish, and impossible for NYCFC to stop. Miazga also registered an assist by winning the ball on a set piece. Against Orlando City, he rose up and headed the set piece down to his teammate Dax Mccarty who had an easy finish in front of the goal. Miazga constantly heads long balls down to his teammates when the opposition tries to kick it up to their striker. Strikers don’t hold the ball up very well versus Red Bulls. Since he always won the ball, the Red Bulls had a terrific defense last season, and they conceded the fewest goals of any club in the eastern conference. Miazga and Red Bulls were able to stop Drogba, David Villa and Golden Boot winner Giovinco in the eastern conference from dominating them like they did so many other sides. The east was where most of the league’s best goal scorers resided, and the Red Bulls and Miazga stopped them all season.
Miazga’s great size also helped him be a terrific tackler. His long legs made it easy for him to tackle opponents from almost any position. Even though his great size limits his speed, Miazga used his tackling to stop pace filled strikers such as Villa. Against Villa and NYCFC, Miazga was matched up one on one against him in wide area. He not only didn’t bite on Villa’s fakes, but he then tackled him and took the ball away. This showed everyone that Miazga could do the job against the best. When he was matched up against Giovinco, he used his long legs to take the ball away from Giovinco right after the Italian ran it down. He used his size and tackling to take it away from Giovinco. When matched up against Crew star Ethan Finlay, he used his long legs to take the ball away from him right after Columbus worked to get it to Finlay. It was a one on one situation, with Miazga’s tackling prevailing once again.
He averaged over two successful tackles per game for Red Bulls last season, and he is a defender who tackles a lot. When he was outpaced at times, he was still very effective due to his tackling skill. His ability to stop all kinds of strikers is part of why the Red Bulls were so good last season. Miazga is also a good passer in the defense. He constantly played long balls over the top, and he helped spread the play as well. One long ball of his against Toronto FC was perfectly weighted over the defense, and Bradley Wright-Phillips ended up with an easy tap in. At the time, Red Bulls were losing, and Miazga’s terrific 60 yard long ball helped Red Bulls come back and win. His passing was essential to Red Bulls success this past season. This was one of the many examples of Miazga passing ability. According to whoscored, he had a 74% passing clip last season. A pretty good total for someone who played a lot of long balls to his teammates like the one against Toronto. Against Columbus, after Miazga took the ball away, he made a very quick short pass to his teammate Dax Mccarty. Miazga would get the ball back, and make a few more quick and accurate short passes to his teammates. These passes allowed Red Bulls to establish possession and they ended up holding on to their two goal lead. If Miazga didn’t help establish possession, Columbus could’ve gotten back into the game.
While Miazga has a lot of strengths as a defender, he still has his weaknesses. His main weakness is his poor discipline and not being able to control his emotions. Against Orlando City, Miazga picked up a terrible red card, and Red Bulls conceded five goals as a result. This red card not only cost the team, but it made Miazga miss a match as well. He didn’t have too many yellow cards, but the ones that he did pick up where often unnecessary. Even though he didn’t pick up many cards, he often committed fouls and gave up free kicks. Sometimes Red Bulls gave up goals on the free kicks conceded. Miazga was also seen shoving opposing players on multiple occasions. Most notably against Toronto FC, when Miazga shoved multiple players in a physical scrum that he was largely responsible for starting. He also was seen shoving Justin Meram of the Columbus Crew. Both incidents showed that Miazga needs to get better at containing his emotions, and keeping himself disciplined.
Against the physicality of the higher level leagues and in international matches, he has to sure up his discipline. Another problem for Miazga is that he’s very skinny. Despite winning the ball a lot, he sometimes lacked strength to take it back when he didn’t. When he was outmuscled, he often got angry and began to lose control of his emotions. If Miazga goes on to do bigger things, he can’t get bullied by bigger and stronger strikers, and he can’t always rely on tackling to take the ball away. When the U.S. plays against the better national teams, tackling might not always work. Adding muscle will be key for Miazga, but with his work ethic, he certainly will improve in that area.
With Miazga already a star in the MLS, for him it might be best to look for a European move. Miazga wants to move to Europe to help his career, and top tier Premier League clubs like Chelsea have already tried to sign him. On an international level, he will try to become an established international player. Also he’ll try to get into the first team right away, something that he is very capable of. If he moves to the Premier League, Jurgen Klinsmann will give him plenty of chances to become an international star as well. A year ago, hardly any MLS fans knew about Miazga. He was merely a prospect to most, but now, he is a player who any U.S. National Team fan is well aware of. His incredible rise shows that the MLS’ homegrown player rules aren’t just working, they are changing the perception of who the league’s stars really are.
Written by Alex Lynch