Ever since moving to Chelsea in January 2016 at the age of 20, change has been a near constant for Matt Miazga.
Soon after arriving at Stamford Bridge, the United States international defender became part of the Blues’ loan army, as he was sent to four different teams in four different countries across parts of five seasons. Now it looks like change is in the air once again. Miazga’s Chelsea career, one that saw him make just two first-team appearances with the club, is set to come to an end, even though he has two years left on his contract.
“The plan is to move on, short and sweet. Honestly, that’s the goal,” he said prior to the CONCACAF Nations League matches last month. “We’ll see what happens in the window. I know there’s interest and talks with certain clubs and certain people. I’d like to get it done on the earlier part of the summer so that I can get a proper preseason somewhere. But I think it’s time to move on. Chelsea knows that, and I know that as well.”
The Clifton, New Jersey, native said of his Chelsea experience, “I would’ve liked more chances, but that’s football.” Yet the defender’s nomadic existence had its benefits. While on loan, he made more than 150 first-team appearances across three top-flight leagues — with Vitesse Arnhem in the Dutch Eredivisie, Nantes in France’s Ligue 1, and the Belgian First Division A with Anderlecht — as well as the second-tier English Championship with Reading. Those experiences, as unsettling as they were at times — his stint at Nantes lasted just eight games — made him a known commodity in Europe, and advanced his game. Miazga says he feels stronger physically and mentally, and that he’s more aware tactically.
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“I bounced around a bit, but honestly, I wouldn’t change it for the world because I learned,” he said. “I learned so much in these different countries, different football philosophies, and obviously off the pitch growing up being in different cultures, being in different countries, learning different languages, so it’s been a good ride so far.”
When Miazga was younger, the bouncing around didn’t bother him. It was a case of moving on to the next adventure. But at age 25, the former New York Red Bulls center-back is ready for a bit more stability in his life. He got married in June, and would like to enjoy an offseason where there’s some certainty — at least as much as is possible in the topsy-turvy world of the professional game — in terms of where he’s going to be the following season.
“I’m not young anymore, I want to settle down,” he said. “When the season is finished, it’s like, ‘All right, I’m coming back here, and it’s set in stone.’”
Miazga spoke highly of his experience at Anderlecht under manager Vincent Kompany, who during his playing career was an elite central defender. He lauded Kompany’s preparation during the week, and the manager’s ability to set Anderlecht up in a position to succeed.
“There’s obviously a lot of good managers, but it’s one thing to talk and say things and then another to actually go do it, train it, watch it on video, analyze it, and make sure that every single player knows his role and what to do,” said Miazga. “So that’s been really nice to see.”
It was common for player and manager to talk shop after training sessions where Kompany would help Miazga refine his game. Miazga recalled one suggestion of Kompany’s in which he was instructed to stay tighter with a back-post runner “to eliminate his view of the ball” and deny the opponent space. Miazga spoke of “being a pessimist” when Anderlecht has the ball, the better to thwart transition opportunities. And he was also encouraged to be more of a leader and improve his on-field communication.
“Sometimes I get riled up, and I’m really demanding in my instructions,” he said. “But sometimes the way I deliver my message needs to be calmer, more precise, instead of just shouting out of rage. Or not even rage, but just shouting. So, to be more [exact] in communication, I think I’ve made leaps and bounds in that aspect.”
While Miazga makes progress at club level, there’s been some regression with the USMNT. When Aaron Long went down with a ruptured Achilles tendon just before the finals of the Nations League, Miazga seemed a logical replacement. But instead, manager Gregg Berhalter opted for the greater mobility of Mark McKenzie, and Miazga was limited to one late-game substitute appearance in the semifinal against Honduras and no minutes at all in the final against Mexico.
It was prior to those Nations League matches that Berhalter seemed to foreshadow Miazga’s role. The defender is clearly in the mix, but not first choice.
“We’re looking at matchups and we’re looking at specific game plans,” Berhalter said before the semifinal with Honduras. “Matt’s a guy that we have confidence in, [who] we trust and we know will play a role within our group.” He added, “Anyone in this group here is a player that you know we’re considering for World Cup qualifying and we think can help the team.”
Miazga doesn’t sound like someone taking their national team place for granted. Rather, he’s aware of where he stands, and how quickly things can change.
“Whenever you get a chance to play, you’ve got to make sure you represent the badge the right way, represent the crest the right way and give it your all,” he said. “For me it’s no different. I’m there to do a job. If I get an opportunity, just help the team. Of course, the national team, whenever you play, you really want to stake your claim and make sure that you’re doing well. But for the U.S., no spot is ever guaranteed. You have to be playing well. You have to be in form and you ultimately have to be available also. So, for me, now it’s just helping the team, whenever I’m called upon.”
When the U.S. squad reconvenes in September for World Cup qualifying, Miazga will likely be calling another club home. He’ll be hoping that another change — that being a more prominent role at international level — soon follows.