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FC Cincinnati’s savvy Matt Miazga move ends a cautionary tale at Chelsea

The ongoing renaissance at FC Cincinnati continued on Thursday, when, after pursuing him for months, the club finally landed Matt Miazga.

As first reported by Laurel Pfahler, sources confirmed to The Athletic that Cincinnati acquired Miazga on a free transfer from Chelsea and signed him to a max-TAM deal through 2025. Now 27, the New Jersey native had a bit of grueling time after leaving the New York Red Bulls for Europe in January 2016. He never really had a chance at Chelsea, who loaned him out on six different occasions to five different clubs in Holland, France, England, Belgium and Spain. He never spent more than a season-and-a-half with any one team, and appeared in just 10 contests last season for an Alaves side that was relegated from La Liga.

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His time in Europe is a cautionary tale for developing players everywhere. Miazga was nothing more than a speculative buy for Chelsea, a $5 million flier for a club that was never going to prioritize his development. To them, he was less an individual than a financial instrument, one with three realistic pathways: 1) Go on loan and be sold for a profit 2) Go on loan and be sold for a loss or allowed to walk for free 3) Go on loan and develop enough to actually contribute for Chelsea.

Those kinds of tracks can work for players, but the turbulence inherent to each of them makes development harder than it has to be. It’s safe to say that it didn’t really help Miazga, who has fallen out of favor with the U.S. men’s national team and seems like a longshot to make Gregg Berhalter’s roster for the World Cup. A move to a smaller club that may have been more invested in his growth back in 2016 may have provided a stabler environment more conducive to his long-term prospects.

He should find some much needed stability in Cincinnati, which badly needed some help at center back. Though FCC has improved significantly this year following a miserable first three seasons in MLS and is very much in the mix for a playoff spot, the team has conceded 42 goals in 23 regular season games, tied for the third-worst mark in the league. Miazga may be coming off a difficult year in Spain, but one could easily argue that he’ll be a top-five center back in MLS, so he’ll be a big upgrade for FCC.

Miazga was acquired through the MLS allocation process, which first-year Cincinnati GM Chris Albright has manipulated masterfully this season.

Albright traded out of the No. 1 spot of the allocation order on three different occasions this year, but only exchanged it for packages that included the No. 2 spot in the order. In February, he sent the No. 1 spot to the New York Red Bulls in exchange for the No. 2 spot and $100,000 in general allocation money. When New York used the No. 1 spot to re-acquire Caden Clark, Cincinnati moved back to the top of the list. A few months later, he repeated the process, trading the No. 1 spot to Real Salt Lake in exchange for $125,000 in GAM. RSL then used the spot to sign Jefferson Savarino, bumping Cincinnati back up again to No. 1. On Thursday, Albright pulled the trick a final time, sending the No. 1 spot to Toronto FC in exchange for the No. 2 spot they had just acquired from Dallas and $125,000 more in GAM. When TFC signed Richie Laryea via allocation, Cincy moved back up and landed Miazga. That’s $350,000 in guaranteed GAM and $75,000 in conditional GAM in exchange for absolutely nothing. And they still got their guy, too.

The allocation process is growing increasingly obsolete, but the entire saga was a great bit of GMing by Albright, a perfect example of an executive manufacturing extra budget space at no cost to their club. We didn’t see anything even close to approaching those kinds of moves during Cincinnati’s first three seasons in MLS. That kind of market manipulation shows the benefits of hiring people who actually understand the intricacies of how the league works.

It also matches what’s been a largely positive year for FCC. The club isn’t above the playoff line (they’re tied on points with Charlotte and Miami for seventh in the East, but trail both clubs via tiebreaker), but they’ve gotten strong production from DP attacker Lucho Acosta, have emerging talents in striker Brandon Vazquez and in rookie goalkeeper Roman Celentano, a solid new defensive midfielder in DP Obinna Nwobodo and filled a hole by signing Miazga. It’s obviously still an open question whether or not they’ll sneak into the playoffs and they could still use some new additions this winter (especially in defense; center back Geoff Cameron will be out of contract after this season), but Albright and first-year head coach Pat Noonan at least have the club pointed in the right direction. After their awful start to life in MLS, that’s a huge reason for optimism in southwestern Ohio.

(Photo: David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

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