It would perhaps be a little harsh to blame the New York Red Bulls' defense for the team's 2-0 home loss to Philadelphia Union this week. RBNY had its chances to score, but didn't take them. Philly found the net with an admirable directness, while the Red Bulls repeatedly attempted to dribble their way through the middle of a tightly-packed Union defense. Philly looked for space to stretch and tease the back line, RBNY seemed drawn to the crowd of players in the middle of the field.
Still, it is also necessary to note that RBNY's defensive resources are under increasing pressure. When Kemar Lawrence limped out of the game against Philly, the Red Bulls' back-line featured one surefire starter playing his position of choice: right back Chris Duvall.
Of the rest, center back Karl Ouimette may be regarded as fourth on the depth chart for that position, behind Ronald Zubar (injured), Damien Perrinelle (injured), and Matt Miazga (in New Zealand with the US U-20 team). His partner in the middle of the defense for the Philly game was Roy Miller, just back from injury himself and having lost his starting spot at left back to Lawrence along the way.
When Connor Lade replaced Lawrence, the RBNY defense was officially running on fumes: fourth and fifth choice center backs, third choice left back (fourth, more likely, since Anthony Wallace was signed to play the position the last time it looked possible Lade might get a start), and Chris Duvall.
All of which is to say that the approaching slate of summer internationals could wreak further havoc on an already severely depleted RBNY back line. One imagines Ali Curtis and Jesse Marsch have devoted some time to talking with the national team head coaches of Canada (regarding Ouimette), Jamaica (regarding Lawrence), even Haiti (regarding the occasionally-rumored potential call-up of Andrew Jean-Baptiste). And, of course, Costa Rica, because Roy Miller has 52 caps for his country, and Los Ticos have a Gold Cup approaching that they would surely like to leave their mark on.
Clubs can, and often do, negotiate with national teams when the impact of international call-ups threatens to be debilitating. But it is a delicate situation: a club does not want a reputation for torpedoing the national team ambitions of its players; specific players may give great value to the chance to represent their country - it is the childhood dream of most, after all - and therefore blocking a call-up may be counter-productive.
But such issues are very much out of the public eye, and that is as it should be. Sometimes, however, a player will publicly state his intentions (such as when Dane Richards announced he had declined a call from Jamaica earlier this year). And sometimes a pattern is evident, such as when Costa Rica head coach announced a 25-player training squad for his team's upcoming summer matches that included no players from MLS.
Wanchope has summoned a strong group: Keylor Navas, Bryan Ruiz, Joel Campbell, Michael Umana, Celso Borges, Yeltsin Tejeda, Miguel Cubero - these are all stars of the current player pool. There are some less established names as well: Keyner Brown, Lemark Hernandez, Jordan Smith, Elias Aguilar and Jonathan Moya - each has one cap at the moment.
And there are some established names missing - perhaps most notably, the injury-enforced absentees Oscar Duarte and Bryan Oviedo. But what caught the eye about the squad announcement was the pointed absence of players from one league: MLS.
There are six players in the league who might reasonably hope to be on Wanchope's list for Gold Cup: D.C. United's Jairo Arrieta, Columbus Crew's Waylon Francis, Real Salt Lake's Alvaro Saborio, Portland Timbers' Rodney Wallace, Kendall Waston of Vancouver Whitecaps, and RBNY's Roy Miller.
They are not players who can be certain to make the final cut for the tournament, but most would hope to at least get some consideration.
Does their collective absence mean Wanchope no longer rates pretty much the entire Costa Rican contingent in MLS? Of course not. He has said he will make adjustments to his squad on June 1. Those adjustments will be the addition of players the coach cannot call into camp until the FIFA international window opens and clubs are required to honor national team requests - players involved in leagues like MLS that play through the summer.
So the MLS group is certainly not forgotten. Indeed, it would only be moderately surprising if all the additional players called up on June 1 were playing for North American clubs.
The Red Bulls' defensive concerns are not yet alleviated. Roy Miller may yet be asked to contribute to his country's cause for its friendlies against Colombia (June 6) and Spain (June 11) - games that will require travel to Argentina and Spain respectively.
But a June 1 call-up for Miller would not be so bad for RBNY. He'd miss one MLS match: against Houston Dynamo on June 5.
The bigger concern is the Gold Cup, since that tournament could take a player away from his club for a month (Costa Rica has a warm-up match against Mexico on June 27, and will hope to still be in the tournament for the final on July 26).
The players named on June 1 will be the front-runners to make the final squad for Gold Cup. So Miller's presence or absence from the group that travels to play Colombia and Spain will be a hint at Wanchope's intentions for July. Ironically, however, Miller's recent lack of playing time might count against him with regard to a national team call right now, but if he starts to get more minutes for RBNY, he may play himself back into contention.
Gold Cup regulations require a Provisional List of 35 players be submitted no later than 30 days prior to the opening match of the competition - or June 8, by this writer's count. That list must be whittled down to 23 by 10 business days prior to the opening match of the competition: June 23.
Roy Miller is not on Costa Rica's call-up list right now, but it's too early to say whether that is at all significant to discussion of RBNY's defensive depth over the next couple of months.