Weeks ago I asked the question as to how Luis Robles might fight his way into a spot with the United States Men's National Team despite so much competition on the goalkeeping depth chart. In light of recent events, I'm now wondering whether Robles can AVOID a call-up to the team when the next international window arrives in late March.
With injuries to MLS stars Tim Howard and Bill Hamid, along with the lack of playing time at Middlesbrough for Brad Guzan, the seven weeks between now and the crucial March 24 World Cup Qualifying matches against Honduras and Panama are becoming more and more of a race against the clock for USMNT head coach Bruce Arena.
Since taking over the job from Jurgen Klinsmann late last year, Arena has also only had a few months to prepare, watch film and organize his depth chart. He knows the player pool, no doubt, but he hasn't had a lot of time to scout those players and see where they are right now. He was appointed USMNT head coach on November 22. On January 10, he started his first training camp with a squad of mostly MLS players. That just wrapped up on February 3. He has maybe six weeks to name his squad for the March internationals.
We can guess Arena's top three 'keepers from the currently-fit MLS player pool: they are the only three goalkeepers he has given time on the field since he took over coaching USMNT - Nick Rimando, David Bingham, and Luis Robles.
Are Howard and Hamid likely ahead of all of them on the depth chart? Sure. But their availability is down to their club's physio teams and the way their bodies respond to treatment. Guzan is getting scant playing time. Another top prospect, Evan Horvath, just moved over to Club Brugge, where is currently in a back-up role. Club Leon starter William Yarbrough is enduring his team's shaky start to the latest Liga MX season.
Meanwhile, the Red Bulls goalkeeper and MLS Iron Man Luis Robles, who has not missed a minute of MLS action for his club since 2012 - and that record speaks to his two greatest assets: consistency and durability.
Robles played 45 minutes in the recently USMNT friendly against Jamaica, preserving the shutout in the first half thanks for the most part to a pretty brilliant save.
#RBNYIronman pic.twitter.com/6OQ3881x6U— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) February 4, 2017
Rimando would be expected to start in the absence of Howard, Hamid, Guzan, et al - but the absence of two or three 'keepers from the player pool could very well earn Robles a call-up to the national team squad in March.
Unfortunately for the Red Bulls, the two World Cup qualifiers would directly conflict with a March 25 home match against Real Salt Lake in MLS Week 4.
Should Robles get the call from Arena in March, he'd be expected to pick country over club. He has not been a regular national-teamer. He has won just three caps since 2009. His legacy with RBNY and MLS is surely secure, but he is 32 and hasn't got a lot of time left to make a bigger impact on the international soccer scene. If he got the call, of course he'd take his shot with USMNT. And if that happens, his MLS Iron Man streak of consecutive starts and full-game appearances would come to an end. Better to see it capped by the national team than by injury.
Ryan Meara has proven to be a reliable second option in the net, and Rafa Diaz has the right skill-set too. But national team call-ups that conflict with the regular season schedule have a way of dividing a fan base.
Pencil in that discussion among RBNY fans for March - not least because there is a strong likelihood that Sacha Kljestan gets called up for USMNT's next set of World Cup qualifiers. And there are are also important games for Haiti (Derrick Etienne's national team) during the March international window. Throw in the chance that Jamaica (Kemar Lawrence is a senior player for the Reggae Boyz now) seizes the opportunity to get a first-choice squad together for friendlies - and RBNY's game against Real Salt Lake on March 25 might be an early-season test of the team's depth chart.