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Tata Martino: Miles Robinson has ‘improved’ for Atlanta United

Orlando City SC forward Stefano Pinho (29) is tackled by Atlanta United midfielder Jeff Larentowicz (18) during the second half of the game at Orlando City Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Miles Robinson made the second start of his Major League Soccer career Sunday, slotting in at fullback for Atlanta United F.C. in a 2-1 win over Orlando City SC.

Robinson, 21, was the No. 2 overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft in 2017 but logged zero minutes for Atlanta United last season. He trained with the team, but got most of his playing time in the United Soccer League, appearing six times with the Charleston Battery.

But this season, Robinson has gotten a few chances in MLS. Count Atlanta manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino as those who have been impressed by him so far.

“As I said after the LAFC game, he’s ready,”Martino said through a translator after Sunday’s win. “He’s a player who’s improved a lot over the course of the last year. So, we know he’s ready to play on days when he has to step up and help us out, like today.”

Martino called on Robinson against Orlando because the defense was shorthanded. Chris McCann (left leg) and Franco Escobar (abdominal) were both ruled out ahead of the match due to injuries.

The Five Stripes were also playing their third game in eight days, and reserve defender Sal Zizzo started Wednesday at home in a 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City.

Atlanta played a four-man back line against SKC but went back to its 3-5-2 formation against Orlando. The Five Stripes are unbeaten – with eight wins and one draw – when they play with the 3-5-2.

“Because the game against Kansas City we felt that we had (to play with four in the back), because of their style, we had to match up with them to be able to press them all over the field. And I think that system allows us to do that,” Martino said. “And then the game today I think even with playing with a 3-5-2 we would be able to press Orlando in this system. Also, because we expected the game against Kansas City to be about 50-50 in terms of possession, and today we figured we’d have more of the ball.”

Zizzo was included in the 18-man roster Sunday, but Martino seems to favor Robinson as a better fit when Atlanta plays three in the back.

Robinson played well both as a defender and a distributor. 30 of his 32 passes were successful, and he also tallied a block, a tackle, two interceptions and five clearances.

Alec Kann was starting his first game of the season in goal, in place of a red-card carrying Brad Guzan, and he was happy to have Robinson in front of him.

“Miles is a special player, he’s got a really bright future, you can see it on display,” Kann said. “His passing is getting better every game. Defensively he’s always been great, but the little parts of the game, the intangibles, are getting there. Sky’s the limit for him.”

Aside from his three MLS appearances this season, Robinson has also seen USL game action, starting five matches for ATL UTD 2. There, he’s been 85-percent successful on his 322 passes and also notched eight interceptions, three blocks, five tackles and 35 clearances.

But the question remains: Why isn’t this high draft pick out of Syracuse playing more for Atlanta United?

According to figures released by the MLS Player’s Association last week, Robinson is the Five Stripes’ 12th -highest paid player this season, earning a total compensation of $205,000, which is more than regular starters Greg Garza and Julian Gressel.

One answer could be that Atlanta United simply has more talented, experienced and skilled defenders ahead of him in the depth chart at the moment. But after two near-flawless starts this season, Robinson has Martino’s trust when one of those defenders can’t play.

“Today, Miles had to step in because those guys (McCann and Escobar) are hurt,” Martino said. “But he’s a young kid and he’s getting better.”

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