The March international break is an early interruption for MLS, but in Europe it's a chance for top-flight clubs to regroup for the final stretch of the season. Matt Miazga's Vitesse lost its last game before the break, 1-0 to PSV. Nonetheless the team is well-positioned for its 2017 run-in: with seven games left to play in the league, it lies seventh in the Eredivisie and it is in the top seven that Vitesse will hope to finish this campaign. The top-three spots will be contested by Feyenoord, Ajax, and PSV, but there is still a relatively open battle for places fourth to seventh - which offer entry to next season's Europa League (via the qualifying rounds).
Vitesse needs points to consolidate its fragile hold on a top-seven place (it is just two points above Heerenveen), but it's close to being able to count the season as somewhat successful. And it has a Dutch Cup final to look forward to on April 30. So there is reason for optimism in the Vitesse camp, especially perhaps for Matt Miazga.
On loan from Chelsea, Miazga has been a regular starter since Maikel van der Werff was injured in mid-February. The 21-year-old defender had won and lost a place in the starting lineup when van der Werff was sidelined earlier in the season, but he appears to have learned quickly from that experience and has held on to his place during the latest opportunity for an extended run as a starter. And he was part of the team that saw Vitesse into its first Dutch Cup final since 1990.
All encouraging for a player regarded by some as having lost his way a little since moving to Chelsea in January 2016. The transfer came on the back of an extraordinary 2015 season: Miazga played for the USA U-20s at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship and FIFA U-20 World Cup, then contributed to the USA U-23s' ill-fated Olympic qualifying campaign, and earned his first full Men's National Team cap in November, 2015. He was the 2015 US Soccer Young Male Athlete of the Year. And in MLS, he was a first-choice starter for the Supporters' Shield winners, the New York Red Bulls.
Miazga was one of the success stories of the Jurgen Klinsmann USMNT era, a poster-boy for Klinsi's oft-stated preference that the best players in the national team pool test themselves against the best players in the world by finding gigs with top European clubs.
But Miazga fell off the national team radar when, perhaps predictably, it turned out that a single season as a starter in MLS wasn't quite enough to turn a player into a first-team regular for Chelsea. He was loaned out to Vitesse at the end of August, 2016, when it was quite clear that he would not be considered for any role with Chelsea's first team during the current season.
Still, in an interview with Elf Voetbal, Miazga suggested he had few regrets about his decision to make the jump to Europe:
I miss it, yes, sure. The States is my home. But my purpose and plan was always to come to Europe, to show me here at the highest level.
For better or worse, Miazga is where he wants to be, enjoying the challenge he hoped to experience.
He did, however, admit to one adverse effect of his effort to prove himself in Europe: he is now seemingly out of the USMNT picture entirely.
When Klinsmann was in charge, it had seemed Miazga was a highly-rated national team prospect being fast-tracked through the youth international ranks with maybe more than half a hope of raising his profile sufficiently to win him the chance to bolt MLS for a big Euro club.
But even Klinsi couldn't pick Miazga for the senior team when he wasn't getting much playing time at club level. And new USMNT head coach Bruce Arena has been hired with one priority: get the team to the 2018 World Cup. Arena doesn't really have time to indulge the sort of player development projects Klinsmann enjoyed.
Miazga told Elf Voetbal he has had no word from Arena since the USMNT's regime change:
I have not spoken to him since his appointment in December. With Jurgen Klinsmann I spoke a lot, but unfortunately he was fired.
It's unlikely Miazga would have featured much in World Cup qualifying for Klinsi either, but at least they were talking.
As with any player out of favor or simply not doing enough to be noticed, Miazga indicated he knows he simply has to focus on his job for his club - with regular time will come better performances and maybe that will inspire Arena to pick up the phone one day.
Until then, Miazga has work to do with Vitesse and a future to decide at the end of the season:
The focus is to play as much as possible with Vitesse. After the season, I talk to Chelsea and my agent and we'll see what's next.
In his interview with Elf Voetbal, his comments about Thierry Henry's influence on him during their time together at RBNY were picked up and reported widely in the British press:
Henry is obviously one of the best ever. As a young player, I have learned a lot from him. If I ever needed advice, he was there for me. And when I broke through, he was there to encourage me, to make me better.
But he also advised that Chelsea is keeping in close contact with him during his stint with Vitesse:
At Chelsea, they keep an eye on me. After every game I get videos sent of good and negative moments. They are very helpful. I speak every three weeks with them on my progression.
The remaining weeks of this season will be important to Miazga's progress, both in terms of where he'll play his club soccer next season and whether he can win the attention of Bruce Arena and USMNT.