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Flipping the Narrative: Matt Miazga's quick start

Flipping the narrative is an occasional column in which someone on the Once a Metro staff takes a developing narrative and offers a contrarian point of view. This week, Huan Nguyen looks at the developing story-line around Matt Miazga.

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I am a big Matt Miazga fan. I've literally tried to get him on my team in every one of my saves of Football Manager. Most recently, I'm in the 2017-2018 season: he and Tim Ream have led Bolton Wanderers from the dregs of the Championship to the Premier League. He's got great hair, talent and I think he will be a very good player in the future.

But the future is the key part of that statement.

To some, however, the future is now. The Miazga hype-train has picked up speed recently. About a month ago,he was cast as a promising young player gaining valuable time and experience.

Now...well, consider these recent headlines:

19-year-old New York Red Bulls defender Matt Miazga enjoys best game of career vs. San Jose (mlssoccer.com)

The teenager who is becoming a force for the Red Bulls (nypost.com)

A man among men (bigapplesoccer.com)

All of those were inspired by one league game, his most recent: at home against San Jose. Yes, RBNY played well. Yes, Miazga played well. And the statistical achievement highlighted by MLS stat-man Ben Baer is interesting and worth pointing out: the young defender tallied eight aerial wins, eight clearances, seven interceptions and four tackles - only three other players have combined defensive numbers like that in one match in MLS since 2010 (i.e. when the league started to gather the statistical detail necessary to identify this sort of thing). And Miazga is the youngest of the four players to reach that particular statistical milestone.

But a little context wouldn't be unwarranted. Miazga may be young, but he is tall: 6' 3". He spent most of the game matched up against an under-sized San Jose front-line: Shea Salinas (5' 10"), Innocent (5' 7"), and Sanna Nyassi (5' 8"). Quakes' play-maker Matias Perez Garcia is 5' 5". As the game went on, San Jose got shorter: J.J. Koval (6' 1") was subbed out for Chris Wondolowski (6' 0"); Tommy Thompson (5' 7") replaced Nyassi; Leandro Barrera (5' 8") came on for Salinas.

It takes good timing and positioning (or "tactical awareness" if you prefer a neater phrase) to consistently win balls in the air, and San Jose had some big guys on the field they could use at set pieces. But the visitors were generally not set up to win a lot of aerial duels in the final third. Miazga will have a tougher challenge if he plays when LA Galaxy - and Alan Gordon - comes to town on April 26.

That is not to diminish the man's achievement last weekend. There's more to what he did than winning a few headers. He played very well, and the numbers back up the perception that he was heavily involved in shutting down the Quakes attack. But in some ways, it was a lineup Miazga was better equipped to neutralize than most he will meet in his career.

Speaking of his career, his greatest achievements to date have been with US youth national teams. He has been a regular starter for the U-20 Men's National Team that is currently preparing for the U-20 World Cup. His latest call-up (he started in the April 21 U-20 match against Qatar) was rightly highlighted by the RBNY official site, since all international progress by any Red Bull reflects well on the club. But the team's official release about Miazga's call-up couldn't resist a little hype of its own:

The Clifton, N.J., native played an integral role for the U-20s this winter during the CONCACAF Championships, which the squad won to qualify for this year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand.

No. The US U-20 team did not win the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship. It finished, effectively, third. As it happens, a US U-20 squad has never won the CONCACAF Championship - at least, never in a competition format that generated a single tournament winner (there was a time when the championship basically stopped once U-20 World Cup qualifiers had been identified).

A little inaccuracy in one article is not a big deal. But over time, slight exaggerations aggregate and congeal into hype.

Once A Metro has played its own part in urging the hype-train forward:

The hype comes from a good place: RBNY fans want to see a young prospect do well; USMNT fans want to see emerging talent fulfill international-caliber potential. There are a lot of eyes on Miazga, and there have been for some time.

He has got youth national team looks from both the USA and Poland. He was on Cousin Leipzig's radar (February 2013) before he turned pro with RBNY (May 2013). And he got another call from Papa Red Bull this winter, who summoned him to Qatar for a trial training session with Leipzig and Brother Salzburg.

The Red Bulls are the last undefeated team in MLS. Over the past few weeks, the narrative surrounding RBNY has been the change that Jesse March and Ali Curtis has brought to the team. But as the club settles in to its new identity, it is time for a new narrative. Miazga seems to have been tapped to provide one.

After that strong performance against San Jose, everyone has noticed him. I'm not asking that we don't talk about how he's playing. I am suggesting we temper what we're saying about him. Matt Miazga is 19 years old. He has made 15 appearances for the Red Bulls in total and 13 appearances for US youth national teams.

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).

My main point: give him some space and time. He's going to struggle. I hope he doesn't, but realistically he will at some point. He has a long career ahead of him, we hope, and he's just getting started.

The important thing is that he gets better, which appears to be happening week-by-week before our eyes. This is great, but let's not go all Papa Red Bull and try to get him to Europe. Let's not go crazy and start asking for full squad USA call ups. Let's keep it simple. Hope he does well this week with the U-20s. Then comes back (healthy) and does well with the Red Bulls (staying healthy). Do well at the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand (and stay healthy). In general: stay healthy. And develop and grow as a player.

On the field we see a 6'3 defensive presence, but let's not forget he's a kid. And if you have a hard time remembering that, here's a video of him dunking a tiny ball off a trampoline.You know: like a normal teenager.

Skyzone

A video posted by Matt Miazga (@mattmiazga) on