Saying international duty is a benefit for teams is actually a true statement, or more specifically “half” true. On one hand a team may be without a starting player or two for multiple games during the mid-season stretch due to CONCACAF scheduling the 2021 Gold Cup outside of the FIFA international window. But on the other hand, another team gets to take advantage of those missing pieces.
Coming off their first road win of the season the New York Red Bulls are looking to be the latter type of team. While three of their own were originally named on the U.S. Men’s National Team’s preliminary roster, neither Frankie Amaya, Kyle Duncan, or leading scorer Caden Clark made the final cut. Clark is almost certainly not dawning stars and stripes because of his recent appendectomy that’s kept him sidelined for the last three three games but it isn’t wise to look a gift horse in the mouth.
With Gerhard Struber’s group going 3-1-1 in their last five. It’s nice to see the cohesion that’s been developed (mostly without the aid of Clark) won’t be affected by missing stars. Fábio, who last month had his loan extended with the team to the end of the season, has scored two goals in recent matches after starting the year only assisting others (and leading the team at it) while players like Tom Edwards have been experimenting in new roles on the backline to account for injuries.
But these benefits are only one side of the international coin. Of the team’s next five matches, four of the teams have international call ups right now (all five have had call ups but Inter Miami CF won’t have players missing vs RBNY). Tonight’s match against the Philadelphia Union is the first example of this. The visitors are missing Andre Blake, Cory Burke and Alvas Powell as they were announced for Jamaica’s 23-man roster. Blake has been the team’s main goalkeeper this season while Burke has been a steady forward scoring twice in seven league appearances. One of those was the lone goal in Philly’s 1-0 win over New York earlier this season so it isn’t likely that the backline will be shedding many tears about his call up.
Philly head coach Jim Curtin has quietly been helping develop an eastern power over the last few seasons and this will be a challenge for him to contend with. His squad has plenty of weapons but will replacing major pieces keep the cohesion that’s eluded opposition with quick counters and an annoying persistent midfield?
This is also the only guaranteed match with missing stars since it takes place during the group stage of the Gold Cup, meaning all the qualified nations will be taking part.
It gets even better depending on how far certain teams make it in the tournament though. During the knockout stage, RBNY will play Toronto FC on July 21. The road game in Orlando (because remember the borders are closed) may see Toronto down up to five players who were all called up for international duty. The team’s leading scorer Jonathan Osorio, along with Richie Laryea and Ayo Akinola, will all be dawning the maple lead for Canada’s national team and they’ll be looking for a deep tournament run heading into World Cup qualifying. Former Red Bull Kemar Lawrence will also be playing for Jamaica while TFC may still be trying to organize following the firing of head coach Chris Armas, himself also a recent RBNY manager too.
The two next games require a deep run by the U.S. Nation Team but that would not be shocking and is almost expected. D.C. United (July 25) could be without Donovan Pines and Paul Arriola if the U.S. makes it to the semifinals and the New England Revolution (July 31) are losing goalkeeper Matt Turner for as long as the U.S. stays alive too.
So while fan’s patriotic side is also pulling for the USMNT to follow up it’s CONCACAF Nations League championship with more Gold Cup success, they have more selfish reasons to root for them as well. There might not be anything more American than rooting for someone because it makes someone else worse.
The Red Bulls have a chance to play with a squad at 85% present strength (with players like Clark and Andrew Gutman still injured but looking to come back) against sides that are not at 100% percent. This is a tough stretch and the fact RBNY already got a win over second place Orlando City, and with three of the above mentioned teams sitting higher than New York on the table, there’s a lot of potential to cause chaos and earn points.
Five games over a 23 day span might be the biggest stretch of the season New York gets. A weakened enemy still gives up points when played and if Struber’s group want to stay competitive in the table (and eventually the playoff hunt) bagging at least six points should be the bare minimum goal.