Matt Miazga has enjoyed a dream year, rapidly rising from promising prospect to full-fledged U.S. international and transfer target. Now, at the age of 20, he could be about to make the jump overseas, even if the New York Red Bulls aren't ready to let him go.
The Red Bulls are facing a very tough decision. Miazga is drawing considerable attention from Europe, and earlier this year signed with an agency that sources tell Goal USA is determined to move Miazga to Europe in 2016.
Miazga changed agents last spring, signing with an agency backed by well-known international player advisor Kia Joorabchian. Miazga's specific agent is none other than former English Premier League defender and one-time Toronto FC head coach Ryan Nelsen, who has passed on a career in coaching to work in the sports representation business. Sources tell Goal USA that Joorabchian has already been behind the transferring of two other young defenders from MLS to Europe in Canadian national team defender Doneil Henry and U.S. Under-23 defender Shane O'Neill.
Miazga appears destined to be the third, with Nelsen actively shopping Miazga around England, which hasn't been difficult considering Miazga's age, excellent play at the Under-20 World Cup and his possession of a Polish passport. Various reports have linked Miazga to clubs ranging from Chelsea to current English Premier League leader Leicester City, and perhaps it is no coincidence that, according to sources, Nelsen has spent the past week in England trying to secure a transfer for Miazga.
So why would the Red Bulls sell a 20-year-old budding star if they didn't want to? Miazga's contract is the issue. Sources tell Goal USA that Miazga is about to enter the final year of his Red Bulls contract, which puts serious pressure on the club to sell now in order to cash in on his skyrocketing value. If the Red Bulls don't sell, Miazga could leave in January of 2017, and they would receive nothing.
The situation is a messy one, and the Red Bulls have only themselves to blame. Miazga's original contract was for three-and-a-half years (two years being team options). By the time Miazga finally broke through as a U.S. Under-20 national team starter last January, he was already down to two years remaining on his contract. The Red Bulls tried to re-sign Miazga in the spring, but he was only just beginning to establish himself as a first-year player, so the offers weren't sizable enough to keep him from waiting until after the Under-20 World Cup.
Enter Nelsen and Joorabchian, who swooped in shortly after the Under-20 World Cup to entice Miazga into letting them orchestrate a move to Europe. The star power of Joorabchnian's client list, and history of major deal-making in Europe surely helped sway the young and impressionable Miazga. Nelsen's ties to the English Premier League after a successful decade spent playing in England probably also helped convince Miazga these were the men to pave his way to Europe's top flight.
Now the Red Bulls are stuck between two equally unenviable options. They can either sell Miazga now and secure a reasonable amount of allocation money, or they can keep him and hope he helps lead them to an MLS Cup before he bolts for Europe on a free transfer.
If the Red Bulls are lucky, they could orchestrate a transfer that lets Miazga play for the Red Bulls in 2016 on loan (a maneuver Joorabchian orchestrated with Doneil Henry before Henry eventually left Toronto FC). That is probably the best-case scenario for the Red Bulls, though it's far from a lock they will find a club willing to accept that arrangement.
No matter how you slice it, selling Miazga will generate a negative reaction among Red Bulls fans, though having him stay with the team on loan in 2016 would ease the backlash. The Red Bulls will also be hoping their recent securing of four new Homegrown Player signings will signal their intent to keep player development a priority.
Those signings won't do much to appease Red Bulls fans, especially if Miazga leaves this winter. Replacing Miazga will be extremely difficult, but the Red Bulls may have no choice but to find a way to do it.