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Bradley's dilemma: the pros and cons of an international call-up

It has been about a month since BWP told the Jamaica Football Federation he'd consider the idea of playing for the Reggae Boyz. He's still considering it. What's the hold up?

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

By the time the 2018 World Cup rolls around, Bradley Wright-Phillips will be 33 years old: the same age as his brother Shaun is right now. SWP's international career - for England - ended before he hit 30, but brother Bradley is contemplating the opportunity to start out in international soccer less than six months before his 31st birthday.

The offer, as reported by The Jamaica Gleaner, comes from the Jamaica national team. Per the original report, BWP told the Reggae Boyz to get started on whatever paperwork was necessary while he considered his options. In early August. It is late September.

Per the most recent report from Kristian Dyer at BigAppleSoccer.com, BWP still no closer an answer. "Not even his wife knows", says the headline of the latest piece on the subject at BAS.  What's to consider?

We don't know for sure, but we can speculate.

BWP is a senior player for the New York Red Bulls. He was the team's leading goal scorer in 2014 - setting a club record for goals in a single season and matching the MLS record for the same. In 2015, he has adapted to a new tactic that asks him to be less a pure finisher and more an equal partner in an attacking quartet through which RBNY channels the bulk of its goal scoring efforts.

He has adapted very well: he's the team's leading scorer again this season, and he's also among the top assist-creators in the squad. He's the all-around scoring and creative threat RBNY feared it wouldn't be able to replace after Thierry Henry retired. And the 2015 iteration of the New York Red Bulls is playing very well, challenging for regular season honors and expected to make a similar run at the post-season title, MLS Cup.

BWP is integral to that success. His remarkable consistency over the last two seasons is made more remarkable by the fact he has taken on two very different tactical roles in each year. No surprise Jamaica is interested in his services: he is proven effective and adaptable in one of the stronger leagues in CONCACAF.

But, according to comments gathered by BigAppleSoccer.com's Kristian Dyer from RBNY head coach Jesse Marsch, BWP is unsure of whether to add international soccer to his workload:

He really wants to honor what we're doing here and he doesn't want to take away from trying to win a championship here, trying to win a championship in general. But I think he also sees playing international football as a wonderful opportunity.

It is a not insignificant consideration, but not necessarily for this year.

The current MLS regular season ends for the Red Bulls on October 25. There is an international soccer window in October, during which time Jamaica is scheduled to travel to South Korea for a friendly on October 13.

With RBNY in a tight race for the regular season title, and the fact Jamaica will have limited preparation time and a lot of travel for a one-off friendly - it would be a surprise if BWP was named to the Reggae Boyz squad for South Korea. Even if he were to travel, he likely misses just one game: the Red Bulls' trip to Toronto on October 14. And that will be the first of two matches in five days for RBNY, so some squad rotation might be on the cards anyway - especially if the Red Bulls are more certain of their final placing in the regular season standings by that stage.

More likely, however, BWP is being considered by Jamaica for the start of the fourth round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in November. That might be more of a problem. RBNY will be in the MLS playoffs - it clinched its place on September 20. The playoff schedule is not yet known, but the post-season can reasonably be expected to run from late October to early December.

We don't know if MLS will schedule the playoffs around the FIFA November international break: it's a risky proposition for the league since most confederations around the world are engaged in qualifying cycles for either the World Cup or, in the case of UEFA, the 2016 European Championship.

Call-ups in November could be for very meaningful matches (the playoffs for teams that didn't automatically qualify for Euro 2016 will be held in November). They certainly will be for Jamaica, who must finish first or second in a tough group (Costa Rica, Panama, and Haiti are the other teams in Group B of CONCACAF's next round of World Cup qualifying) to stay on the road to Russia.

It may be difficult for MLS teams to persuade players and national team coaches to skip a call-up for the last international break of the year for the sake of the playoffs. But the league also has television broadcast partners to consider. And the playoff schedule is further complicated by the fact that not every team in MLS controls the scheduling of matches in its own stadium. So there are issues the league must confront that may render concern about international call-ups secondary.

If MLS was a priority consideration for TV scheduling and had complete control over the stadia it might need for the playoffs, it could schedule around the November FIFA break with impunity. But the league isn't there yet. It must accepted the dictates of its current position, and that may mean playoff soccer has to be played alongside November's internationals - leaving it up to the teams involved to negotiate with their international players and relevant national federations.

That is, perhaps, BWP's first dilemma: if he accepts a call-up from Jamaica and it carries him away from RBNY at a crucial moment in the playoffs, is it worth abandoning the project he's worked so hard to help toward success in Harrison for a new one on the international soccer scene? Whatever information he's received from the league on the subject, it clearly hasn't made the decision any easier, which suggests the news is either uncertain ("Sorry, Brad - can't say when the playoffs will be until everyone is qualified") or unpromising ("Yeah, there will be playoff games sometime between November 9-17, it's unavoidable").

It may also be pertinent that he is not necessarily guaranteed a starting role. The Reggae Boyz have enjoyed success in Gold Cup. There are players - Giles Barnes, Darren Mattocks, Deshorn Brown - who can reasonably expect to be allowed first shot at leading Jamaica to further success in World Cup qualifying. BWP could be looking at a lot of time on the bench for his new national team. Missing a playoff game to ride the bench is likely not an attractive proposition, and BWP has been a pro long enough to know Jamaica isn't well served by simply handing out starting spots to new arrivals to the squad. He'll have to pay his dues in some way, at some point in time.

But that might be no great issue if MLS does recognize the FIFA international break in November.

The bigger question for BWP must surely be looking ahead to next season and beyond. If he accepts Jamaica's call and wins a key role in the squad for World Cup qualifying, he can expect call-ups in March, September and November of 2016. And if the 2016 Copa America Centenario goes ahead as planned, he might be required for competitive international soccer in the summer also.

That schedule could see BWP pulled away from RBNY - since MLS tends not to pause its regular season for international breaks - several times over the course of next year. And that could affect his place in the first team for his club, either because his replacement finds form or he finds the dance between two squads disruptive to his own focus and preparation. He watched teammate Tim Cahill slide into irrelevance for RBNY over the course of a long year split between club and country in 2014.

It is a difficult decision BWP is facing. Jamaica has a tough qualifying road ahead, but also a realistic chance of making it all the way to Russia 2018. That is a big incentive for any player. But the risks are also significant.

Fortunately for Wright-Phillips, he does at least have a coach willing to say the right things in public.

Jesse Marsch has been unstintingly supportive of players in his squad who have the privilege of international soccer. The club has cooperated with US Soccer to ensure Matt Miazga gets every opportunity to continue his rise through the ranks of the national youth teams while also being allowed to continue his development as a top-tier starting center back in MLS. Kemar Lawrence has also had a busy international schedule with Jamaica, and RBNY has handled his playing time intelligently and sensitively.

Marsch gives every appearance of offering BWP the same support, and we have no reason not to believe him when he tells BigAppleSoccer.com the club is putting no pressure on Wright-Phillips to make a decision for or against international soccer:

The only thing that I've said to him is that no matter what I'll support him, that it's his decision to make; that as a coach and as a club we're behind him. It's his decision to make.

That, ultimately is the only certain positive in the current situation. A team that wants to be successful must understand that its success will bring attention to its players, who may then be called for international duty. If the club can't handle that eventuality, it won't attract the sort of talent it wants on the roster: the sort of talent capable of rising to an international-class level of play.

Whatever BWP decides, it is encouraging that RBNY's mindset is consistent with its stated goals. It wants to be the best team in MLS. It wants to attract and develop players capable of playing at the highest levels of the game. And it appears not be flustered by the consequences of those ambitions. The team will lose players to international call-ups from time to time if it is doing things right. And, so far, its reaction to that fact is encouraging.

Whatever BWP decides to do, it is comforting to hear the club consistently supporting its players in their understandable desire to at least consider testing themselves at ever higher levels of the game.