Before Costa Rica's final group match of the World Cup, there was some chat from within the Ticos' camp about rotating the squad. As it turned out, coach Jorge Luis Pinto made just two changes from the starting lineup that won its first two games of the tournament: Randall Brenes deputized for Christian Bolanos in midfield, and New York Red Bulls' own Roy Miller stepped into Michael Umana's spot in defense.
Pinto hasn't tended to use Miller in the forward-roaming left back slot he plays for RBNY, rather Roy is part of a three-man central defensive unit charged with holding the offside line (done brilliantly in Costa Rica's previous match against Italy), and covering for the frequently absent full backs. Junior Diaz is the guy charging down the left on the overlap for Pinto, and Miller is part of one of the most disciplined defensive lines in world football.
You read that right. Pinto was critical of RBNY's defensive coaching last year, when questioned about whether he planned to use the Red Bulls' recurring nightmare in the Hex. And if you missed this match - and his work in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying - you may have missed your chance to see why; it's unlikely Miller gets another start unless one of his teammates gets injured.
He did OK: he knows this system, knows his teammates, and knows his role. The Costa Rica defense was breached on occasion, but England only managed one shot on target. As has been the case throughout the group stage, the team did not look in the least overmatched against a heavyweight opponent: Pinto's men had their chances too, but perhaps the priority of staying fit for the next round took a little bit of the edge off their game.
The Ticos didn't need the win, and they got the point required to win Group D - progressing to the second round of the World Cup for the second time in their history (they've only qualified for four tournaments, so that's a pretty good return), and winning a group for the first time.
The clean sheet will bring confidence, and the team now waits for the conclusion of Group C to find out whether it will play (most likely) Ivory Coast, (less likely) Greece or Japan, or (very unlikely) Colombia, in the next round. Costa Rica's second round match is scheduled for June 29th at 4:00 pm (Eastern).
The opponent won't change the fact that Roy Miller won't be back for RBNY's next game: Toronto FC on June 27th. And while it's very much getting ahead of ourselves, it should be noted he'll miss the July 4th trip to Houston if Costa Rica advances to the quarterfinals in Brazil.
Incidentally, Roy's next appearance for his country will be his 50th. so give him a cheer if you see him on the field.
Stay out there as long as you can, Roy - we're rooting for you.