The United States men's national team roster for upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Trinidad and Tobago and St. Vincent and the Grenadines features two brand new players. One of them is Matt Miazga, a central defender who is the Americans' best homegrown prospect at that position since Oguchi Onyewu.
Let's meet him.
Who is Matt Miazga?
He's a New York Red Bulls academy product who joined the Red Bulls in 2009, as an Under-14 player. He quickly rose through the ranks, becoming the academy's most touted prospect, and made his MLS debut in 2013 at just 17 years old. He made sporadic appearances in 2014, then got thrown into the fire this season after starter Ronald Zubar got injured. He struggled at first, but learned quickly, and was considered one of MLS's best defenders by the end of the regular season.
Miazga is Polish-American, and played one match for Poland's Under-18 team in 2012. Because the upcoming USMNT matches are World Cup qualifiers, Miazga would be cap-tied to the United States if he appears, and no longer eligible to represent Poland.
Describe him as a player in one sentence
A towering giant of a center back who is surprisingly quick and good with the ball at his feet.
Show me something cool he's done
He clinched a win over New York City FC with this set piece goal.
But goals aren't what we're looking for. Here's a tackles and clearances mixtape.
Things that become obvious watching that are that Miazga is very tall and very aggressive. He goes all-out to win the ball on occasion, which results in him putting together a pretty excellent-looking highlight reel.
What youth soccer accomplishments does he have that we can fawn over?
He's been the first-choice center back for the Under-20 side since he started getting regular minutes in MLS. That means he was at the heart of the defense as the U.S. qualified for the Under-20 World Cup, got out of their group and took eventual champions Serbia to penalties in the quarterfinals. His defense shut out New Zealand, Colombia and Serbia, leading to his promotion (along with partner Cameron Carter-Vickers) to the Under-23s.
Miazga and Carter-Vickers outplayed players much older than them in the group stage, though they unfortunately lost in the semifinals of Olympic qualifying. Still, Jurgen Klinsmann and Andreas Herzog showed quite a bit of faith in Miazga to not only immediately jump up an age group, but be the leader next to the 17-year-old Carter-Vickers.
Show me an instance of him screwing up so I can temper my excitement
Here's several instances of Miazga looking very much like a 19-year-old during an April 11 match against D.C. United. He looked entirely out of his depth in this game.
About 10 days later, Once A Metro wrote a piece on Miazga that both praised his talent and asked everyone to slow the hype train.
He still needs room to grow. Miazga is continuously improving, from this rash tackle last year he's gotten much better. While he was good against San Jose, he's given up chances. Chances that should have turned into goals like the hesitant toe poke at the ball against Kansas City, or the penalty conceded to DC. Or the failed clearance against DC. Or the corner kick that sailed past him and found Tony Tchani for a goal for Columbus (nitpicking because everyone missed that one, but that's the issue: over-zealous praise can be countered by hyper-criticism).
Not long afterwards, Miazga picked up a red card in a rivalry game against NYCFC.
"In preseason, his one-on-one defending wasn't great," teammate Sacha Kljestan told ESPN's Doug McIntyre in August. "He gave guys too much time and space, and it was too easy to beat him."
But since all that happened, Miazga has helped the United States Under-20s to a World Cup quarterfinal appearance and the Red Bulls to a Supporters' Shield, redeeming himself in a later appearance against NYCFC in the process. He's improved rapidly over the past six months. But it's worth noting that Miazga is still only 20, and is not very far removed from looking like he wasn't quite ready for the big stage. He was also one of the starters on the U.S. Under-23 team that lost an Olympic qualifying match to Honduras, and certainly wasn't blameless in that defeat.
How does he fit in?
Miazga brings something new to the table that's going to ensure he keeps getting looks, even if he doesn't have a good camp. He's a lot bigger and stronger than Michael Orozco, Matt Besler, Tim Ream and Ventura Alvarado. He's quite a bit more athletic than Omar Gonzalez. The only CBs in the pool who combine Miazga's size and athleticism are John Brooks and Geoff Cameron, and Miazga's a bit bigger than both of them. He's also very good on the ball for his size and age.
All of this is really good news, because Miazga doesn't need a specific kind of partner. He could play with a smaller, quicker center back or a big hulking one and the USMNT wouldn't lack something at the back. It's probably best that he plays next to a very experienced partner for now, though.
Bust out your crystal ball and predict his future
Klinsmann is praying that the USMNT has no problem with St. Vincent and the Grenadines so he can sub in Miazga late in the match to cap-tie him. He won't start either of the upcoming qualifiers, but he will start at Camp Cupcake in January. He'll do well enough there that Klinsmann will move him up in the pecking order. He'll start some Hex games; some will go well and some will go poorly. He'll make the 23-man squad for the 2018 World Cup.