ATLANTA — Miles Robinson isn’t supposed to be Atlanta United’s standout performer early in the 2019 season, but he is. The club’s first-choice 11 includes the reigning Major League Soccer Most Valuable Player, the reigning South American Footballer of the Year and one of Argentina’s brightest under-20 prospects. Robinson, a 22-year-old centerback who played college soccer at Syracuse and was Atlanta’s first draft pick in 2017, has been the Five Stripes’ best player through seven games this year.
“He’s one of the big surprises for me this season, because he’s constantly on a very high level,” manager Frank de Boer recently said at the Children’s Healthcare Training Ground in Marietta, Ga. “He’s still young, and he can learn a lot, but he has a good mentality. … He has a bright future ahead of him.”
Robinson has stood out in part because of Atlanta’s struggles in attack. If blockbuster signing Gonzalo “Pity” Martínez were already banging in the sort of golazos that inspired River Plate fans to sing about how crazy he is, Robinson might be flying under the radar. That would be a shame. His one-on-one defending, a point of pride for the young American, has been a pleasure to watch.
Not only does Robinson hold MLS forwards at bay, he kept Monterrey’s Rogelio Funes Mori, one of Liga MX’s best attackers, tucked away in his pocket over two legs in the Five Stripes’ Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals series against los Rayados. Mori has scored eight times in 10 appearances during the 2019 Clausura. Facing Robinson in the center of Atlanta’s back three, he never threatened Brad Guzan’s goal. United captain Michael Parkhurst called Robinson’s performance in the 1-0 second leg win “fantastic” and “flawless.”
Robinson has the foot speed to close down open space. He is tall and broad, and he knows how to use his physical advantage without extending his arms or pulling back on an opponent.
Robinson’s strongest performance to date came Sunday in a 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union. Forwards Fafa Picault and Cory Burke had to think they were in on goal numerous times throughout the match, only for Robinson to intervene. The supporters at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, who are accustomed to electrifying performances by their attacking superstars, have shown they can appreciate stout defensive work, too. They gave Robinson several loud ovations over the course of the Union game. He was named man of the match and received a golden spike, an award voted upon by fans each game, for his efforts.
“I told him a lot of times, he’s a great player,” centerback Leandro González-Pírez recently told Pro Soccer USA. “He’s an amazing defender. Physically, he’s one of the best we have in the defense. He’s really strong, he’s fast. Maybe he has to keep growing with experience, but he can be at a big club in the future because he’s a really good player.
With such a good run of form, Robinson is drawing the attention of United States men’s national team enthusiasts. He says playing for the Yanks would be an honor, but he isn’t focusing on that right now. Nevertheless, fans are beginning to give Robinson shouts on social media. Previous USMNT managers may have overlooked a player who is excelling in MLS, but Gregg Berhalter, who spent five years managing the Columbus Crew, may pay closer attention. Robinson is not among the call-ups for this month’s international break. He earned eight caps for the under-20 team. Perhaps a stint with the under-23s could be in store sometime soon.
Atlanta exited the Champions League against Monterrey by a 3-1 aggregate score, and it has two 1-1 draws and a 2-0 loss from its first three league games. As the Five Stripes continue to work out the kinks under de Boer, a resolute defense will be paramount.
Parkhurst noted this after the disappointing result against the Union: “[The attack] is not clicking, and when that’s the case, we need to try to have some shutouts.”
As Parkhurst and González-Pírez get forward more frequently to overload their opponents, Robinson will continue to be relied upon as a last man responsible for keeping Guzan out of dangerous situations.
Some players sound like old veterans by the time they turn 22. Midfielder Ezequiel Barco came up in Club Atlético Independiente’s academy and led the Argentine team to a continental title when he was barely old enough to be considered an adult in the United States. Now 19, he addresses the media with steel in his eyes and professional (read: canned) responses to questions. Robinson was a college student a couple of years ago, and he sounds like a typical young American male when the microphones gather round. A smile on his face, he mumbles with an aloof sense of, “Why is everybody putting the spotlight on me? I’m just a dude.”
Robinson oozes confidence with his play on the field, but in front of reporters, he sounds as if he doesn’t realize the strides he has made. Asked by Pro Soccer USA to rate his performances this season, he offered the understatement of the year: “I think I’ve been doing pretty good so far.”