Matt Miazga knows how important 2021 is for his career, and has acted accordingly, playing at a high level for Belgian power Anderlecht as he works to boost his stock, both on the club level and in the U.S. Men’s National Team picture.
The American defender is in the final year of his contract with English Premier League giants Chelsea, and his latest in a string of loans has helped him find some stability. Playing for former Premier League star and Anderlecht manager Vincent Kompany, Miazga has established himself as a starter and is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career.
“The most important thing for a player like me is to keep playing consistently,” Miazga told SBI. “It’s important for my abilities and myself as a professional to try and reach the level I want to be at. I’m hitting an age where it’s time to kind of figure out what’s next after this season.”
The 25-year-old has amassed 2,300 minutes in all competitions for Anderlecht and is a consistent starter for Vincent Kompany’s backline. Anderlecht clinched a spot in the Championship Playoffs this weekend, which will give Miazga an opportunity to compete in more meaningful matches ahead of a busy summer for the USMNT.
“We’re hitting an important stretch of the season, where we can possibly clinch a spot in the Champions League or Europa League,” Miazga said. “That was the main goal this season, to try and get Anderlecht back to the level that they had been at for so long.
“On a personal level, the season has been good, I’ve been playing regularly and taking in quite a lot,” Miazga said. “I’ve been able to take a lot of responsibility here at the club, being one of the more experienced players, and I just want to continue growing and leading as we try to finish strong.”
Miazga has gained experience in a wide variety of leagues in his five seasons under contract with Chelsea, having played in French Ligue 1, the Dutch Eredivisie, and the English League Championship, but his current run at Anderlecht has helped him reach a new level. He credits Kompany with helping him develop at a position Kompany mastered during his storied playing career.
“He’s a really intelligent manager,” Miazga said of Kompany. “(He) and his staff do a great job each and every week of getting us prepared for how we want to play, and the opponent. We’re constantly learning, a lot of what he expects from us, we put in a lot of work during the week and then when it’s game time, we are ready to go exactly how he wants. He had a great career and to work with a guy like that, who played many years at the same position as me, is a great benefit.”
Miazga also credits USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter with helping his development, and much like Kompany, Berhalter has the unique perspective that comes with having had a long career as a central defender.
“I’ve been blessed with really good coaches in Vincent and Gregg, and both have definitely helped me to get to where I am now,” Miazga said. “Gregg has done a really good job with the USMNT program and he’s another guy who has a wealth of experience at the center back position. He’s very detail-oriented and I think the way he wants to play suits us very well. He wants to play out of the back, have our attackers make runs behind, and play through the line and overall I think we’ve improved tremendously at all those parts.”
Matt Miazga is working to push his name to the top of the list of USMNT candidates to start at centerback next to lead option John Brooks. He has earned starts under Berhalter, most recently in a 2-1 win against Northern Ireland in March, but is facing growing competition at his position, from veterans such as Aaron Long and young prospects such as Chris Richards.
“I think every position within the National Team is filled with depth, not only the centerback spot,” Miazga said. “Thats the reality of our sport, no matter what National Team you look at, there’s always several guys trying to get into starting spots and it’s the same here. I think the competitiveness really brings the best out of us as players and also for the team, and that will only bode well for us in the long-term.”
Miazga finds himself in the unique position of not quote being on the older range of USMNT players, but he’s also older than the up-and-coming ‘Golden Generation’ grabbing all the headlines now. The former New York Red Bulls defender is focused on holding onto his current position in Berhalter’s plans, and earning a key role in what will be a busy 2021 for the USMNT.
“It’s exciting times for the (USMNT) program,” Miazga said. “We have plenty of competitive matches and competitions coming up, so it’s almost show time. We have been progressing really nicely as a group, the pool has been getting bigger because of all of the young talents excelling in Europe and MLS. Now it’s about pushing this thing forward and take advantage of the opportunities at hand because we want to make the most of them.”
Miazga will soon be back with the USMNT as the Americans aim to not only bring home the Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup trophies, but also start strong in World Cup Qualifying this Fall. The central defender has already earned 21 caps to date with the USMNT, and he is hoping to having a chance to help the national team as it faces stiffer competition in Concacaf.
“I think Concacaf as a whole is improving since when I started my international career, which will only make it more exciting to be a part of,” Miazga said. “Canada has a good group of guys who are making them a threat, Jamaica is adding players from England who also will help them out. It’s not just a few teams leading the way, everyone has a shot to become the top team here and win trophies and there will be plenty of chances this year and after.”
For now, Miazga’s focus is on his club situation, and finishing the current season well with Anderlecht. He has one year remaining on his contract at Chelsea, but has been linked with a permanent move to Anderlecht this summer after impressing in his loan spell. Nothing concrete has been put in place between the two clubs, but Miazga knows the looming possibility of Champions League involvement could sway him to secure a permanent move to the Belgian giants.
“Right now I am under contract with Chelsea, but it doesn’t mean that I will still be there in the future,” Miazga told SBI. “I have enjoyed the time here and it’s been a while since I was in the plans back in England, so plenty could happen. A lot can happen in football and I think there will be plenty of discussions with the technical groups here and there to see what’s next for me.”