After two years at Vitesse where, after a slow-ish start, he put the left-centre back job on lockdown, Matt Miazga has now mastered the song and dance of the Chelsea loan army. He’s ready to graduate, believing that he can prove himself at Chelsea and win the job at his parent club next season.
“I’m confident in my abilities. I’m for sure ready for the next level. I’m a confident player. I know what I can do, I know what I can bring. I just need to control what I can control. Every time I have a chance, every time I have an opportunity to play, try to make an impact, try to impress and play well, and try to win football games.”
Three seasons ago Chelsea bought the lanky defender from New York Red Bulls in a move that surprised just about everybody. Interim manager Guus Hiddink handed him two starts. The first was quite decent. But he was yanked at half-time of the second one, against Swansea, after getting a yellow card and generally looking out of his depth. He’s not seen the pitch again for Chelsea since.
The next season he was loaned to Vitesse, where has has steadily improved his game, earned a recall to the US Men’s National Team, and even wore the captain’s armband on one occasion. He’s added a fair bit of bulk to his frame along the way, while also working on his mental attributes.
“I wouldn’t say I wasn’t ready, because at the time you think you’re ready. But then you realize as you’re getting older and you’re playing more football games and getting better and improving and analyzing and all that stuff, you realize how much you improve and how much more I’ve added to my game, and how much more assured I am of myself.”
That’s exactly how a loan is supposed to work. Whether or not Miazga is ready for Chelsea remains to be seen. But he, along with Mason Mount, were integral parts of a team that fought its way through the playoffs to earn a place in the Europa League. (He scored the goal in the second leg that made it safe for Vitesse, even!)
“That’s the way it should be. You don’t want to stay stagnant. You want to keep improving. I’m not trying to be the best version of myself at 20 years old. I want to keep improving every year, and keep adding to my game, and being the best I can be year by year. It would be bad for me to say that at 20-21 years old I’m peak product, I’m not getting any better, because I’m always going to strive for more, strive for consistency, for perfection.”
Although at 22 he’s still very young for a centre-back (after all, John Terry is still plying his trade at 37), he’s become one of the elder statesmen of the next generation of the US Men’s National Team, which is rebuilding after a disastrous World Cup qualifying campaign. Partnering Spurs prospect Cameron Carter-Vickers, just as when they helped the US reach the quarter-finals of the 2015 U-20 World Cup, their goal now is to be the future for the senior team.
“The group here is pretty young. I’m one of the more experienced players here. That’s personally good for me, to try and help these younger guys, because I always liked it when older guys take you under their wing and help you integrate more. It happened to me at Red Bull, Chelsea, so on and so forth, even in my first few caps with the national team. So I’m going to try and help these young guys as well. I know a few guys, like (Matt) Olosunde and (Josh) Sargent, so I’m going to try and help them. We have a young group, and hungry group, and we’re going to work hard and try to establish ourselves.”
Miazga is trying on another mantle for size too, that of a leader.
“I felt more confidence and more trust from the coach this year for sure. But also, I just thought I’m getting older. I’m in a position where you need to be commanding, you need to communicate a lot, you need to be a leader. And I just kind of took it upon myself to be that leader, to be more of a presence and help my team-mates out any way I can. Organize and just be prepared for everything.”
-Matt Miazga; source: Goal
That kind of maturity in a relatively young player is a good sign. His first chance to exercise his leadership skills comes on Monday, as the US team takes on Bolivia in a friendly, followed by matches against Ireland and France.
But while helping his national team develop is the long-term project, ultimately Miazga has his sights set on a much closer horizon: Perth, Australia, July 23rd. That’s when Chelsea play their first pre-season match and it will be Miazga’s next chance to prove he’s ready to be a Blue.