The news spread like wildfire, spilling over from Tuesday night into Wednesday that the New York Red Bulls’ prized center-back, affectionately known by fans as young Matt Miazga, would likely be jettisoned to Chelsea to the tune of $5 million.
Fans of the Red Bulls should have known this was coming given his performances in the last six months, and great leap from the bench of his club to finding a spot on the full national team. This isn’t even the first time this has happened to the Red Bulls. Players like Juan Agudelo and Tim Ream come to mind. Ream is the more apt comparison, as he had come out of nowhere to start and star in the Red Bulls defensive line in his rookie year.
While Miazga is certainly no rookie, his perception was clearly clouded by some big mistakes the prior season under then head coach Mike Petke. A poor challenge leading to a red card in the first half of what would become a 2-1 win for the Red Bulls weighed so heavily on the young player that he did not feature again for the remainder of the season. When he came in the next season as a starter for the injured Ronald Zubar, no one was prepared for the growth they would witness over the course of the 2015 MLS season.
The real question, though, is will Miazga find time or, whisper it, make an impact with the English giants? The defensive depth Chelsea on paper seems robust, but they have struggled this year and find themselves at the bottom of the table. Kurt Zouma, John Terry, and Gary Cahill are all very good. Trying to find time with likes of those players in front of him could be very difficult indeed. With Terry just turning 35, and Cahill 30, this past December, Miazga has time on his side.
Even if he is unable to break into the team this year, surely a changing of the guard is in order. The other positive in the situation is that not only is Cahill nearing the end of his peak years, but reports say he wants out just the same. If he is indeed moved this transfer window, it would open up an opportunity for Miazga to state his case for a role, be it as a starter or rotation player.
The biggest hurdle for Miazga is going to be getting up to speed. MLS is a very quick league, but the Premier League is a higher level. Miazga has often relied on terrific recovery speed in MLS, something that he might get burned for in England. He is also prone to making risky challenges, especially if the game is getting away from him a bit. This is a roundabout way of saying he needs to grow a bit in the mental part of the game. His other current short coming is his ability in the air. He is much better suited defending one-on-one on the ground as his positioning is not always very good. Having two of the best center-backs in England to learn from should theoretically help him grow.
For the Red Bulls, the loss will be bittersweet. Sure, Miazga was a big part of the RBNY success last season, but the reality is MLS is still not up to par with the giants of Europe. Moving from a retirement league to a feeder league is an important step though, and having more stories like Miazga’s will make that a reality.
The Red Bulls will also be receiving a transfer for a player who has just a few months left on his contract and was already positioned to leave. It might seem trivial now, but longtime fans of the Red Bulls can be thankful that the front office is approaching inevitable situations such as Miazga with the proper clarity to get the best out of the deal. The Red Bulls also maintained contracts with Ronald Zubar and Damien Perrinelle, as well as adding to the lack of depth through the draft with Justin Bilyeu and Zach Carroll. Not to mention they already have a fine spot starter on the bench with Canadian International Karl Ouimette.
It isn’t all doom and gloom for the Red Bulls, but it does add a question mark to their defense of the 2015 Supporter’s Shield. Have faith though NY, a year ago, the idea of a backline of Damien Perrinelle and Matt Miazga probably seemed like a concession of sorts. Of course, all of this is still a big question mark. There have been no confirmations that Miazga has been sold, yet.
Main Photo: Kirk Irwin, Getty Images