The United States started off their World Cup Qualifying campaign in St. Louis last night with a 6-1 win against Caribbean minnows St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The result was as expected and there’s nothing substantial to be gleaned from how the team played, aside from the fact that they allowed St. Vincent to score first via some alarmingly lax defending. After that, the USMNT accrued 83% of the possession, scored six times, and honestly looked bored doing it. Fabian Johnson started and scored on this free kick, which is a good sign about the status of his little tiff with Jurgen Klinsmann
But in the 64th minute, Matt Miazga and Darlington Nagbe came on for Geoff Cameron and Fabian Johnson. By that point the game was all wrapped up, but these substitutions were quite tactical, as they tied the international futures of both players to the USMNT in perpetuity.
The Liberian-born Nagbe’s march toward the USMNT has been an advancing probability since he received his green card in 2012. Since he entered MLS a year before that, Nagbe has been one of the best midfielders in the league, consistently passing with incredible accuracy in the final third and occasionally scoring audacious wondergoals. His father is the former captain of the Liberian national team, so securing his future for the USMNT, while always the likely outcome after he lived most of his life here and has an American wife and child, is still a good get.
He should play central midfield for the USMNT and give them another solid yet creative player to pair with Michael Bradley. If he does, he gives them the exact type of stability that Jermaine Jones makes impossible without sacrificing any of the team’s offensive potency. Most of all, he gives the team structure. Because of the position he plays and his cool demeanor on the ball, he is foundational.
Young Miazga (he just turned 20 and he played in this summer’s U-20 World Cup) is not yet the no-brainer starter that Nagbe should be, but he’s perhaps more important for the team. While Nagbe is better than Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones, central midfield is still a position of strength for the USMNT. Center back, however, is not, and Miazga was one of the best central defenders in MLS (I know I know) this year. Also, unlike Nagbe, Miazga was considering pledging his international career to another perhaps better team.
Miazga hasn’t played for a Polish team since 2012 with the U-18’s, but he said as recently as this fall that he was open to playing for whichever country called him first. The USMNT’s early WCQ’s, while technically competitive, offer an easy entry for a 20-year-old. If the USMNT were into the final rounds of qualifying and having to take on Mexico and Costa Rica, Miazga might never have touched the field this early.
Take two of the first games Red Bull New York played against newly invented Manchester City front NYCFC. In the first one, Miazga got an early red card and had to stew and watch as his team barely won. Two “rivalry” games later, he shut down David Villa of all strikers and scored a goal of his own. Miazga is 6’4” and mobile, but it’s his ability to read the game that makes him such an enticing prospect. That and his aerial ability make him the type of player who, if he fulfills his potential that is, could become another cornerstone of the USMNT. He reportedly turned down Chelsea recently, and that is the caliber of player the USMNT have to work with now at a position of need.
There will be tougher tests coming up, and Nagbe and Miazga’s places within the team may not be as secure as they should be now that they are firmly within the United States setup, but the Jurgen-era USMNT continues to excel in recruiting dual nationals.
Photo via AP