Atlanta United’s Robinson describes USMNT call as ‘surreal’

There is a belief that not even Miguel Almiron could beat Miles Robinson one-on-one during Atlanta United’s training sessions.

Robinson wouldn’t confirm it Thursday. Franco Escobar said he hasn’t seen anyone beat Robinson one-on-one in training, but couldn’t remember if Almiron had before he was sold to Newcastle earlier this season.

Whether true, the fact that it's a possibility is one of the reasons that Robinson was called into the U.S. men's national team for the first time Wednesday by manager Gregg Berhalter. The invitation actually came in a phone call from Berhalter four days ago.

“It was pretty awesome to hear it that way, pretty surreal,” Robinson, 22, said.

Robinson will join the New York-based camp after Atlanta United’s game at Philadelphia on Saturday. The U.S. is scheduled to face Mexico on Sept. 6 in East Rutherford, N.J. and Uruguay on Sept. 10 at in Saint Louis. Robinson said it doesn’t matter to him which team he faces, if he plays at all.

Robinson said he told his family first through a group chat. He has yet to talk to teammate Michael Parkhurst, another defender who has been capped 25 times, about what to expect, but thinks he will.

“Honestly, I don't think much (about) expectation,” he said. “I'm just trying to meet the guys, meet the coaching staff, just see the environment, see what it's like, learn as much as possible, just gain all I can from the experience in general.”

Robinson said the call from Berhalter did give him some confidence in the U.S. Open Cup., but he feels he’s been playing well recently. He has been part of a team that has a league-leading 13 shutouts this season, including six in its past 10 games across all competitions.

“Of course, maybe he will be nervous for his first cap, but I think when you see him and how he showed his quality here and didn't show any nerves during the start of the season, he's very down to earth and works very hard, knows exactly his qualities,” Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said. “That's why he still is on this level. Normally what you see with players who are not as stable as him, they have their peak and then fall down. He didn't show any downfall of that, so I think he will manage it.”

Robinson has been one of the better centerbacks, if not the best, in MLS this season. His combination of height, speed across distances, quickness in tight spaces, and strength have resulted in at least three frustrated attackers pulling at his jersey and trying to wrestle him by game’s end. Minnesota’s Mason Toye was one of those during the Five Stripes’ 2-1 win in the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“He’s in great form,” U.S. men’s national team manager Gregg Berhalter said. “He’s played exceptionally over last month and a half. He’s earned it. I like nothing more than calling in players who have earned a spot by playing really well.

“He helped his team win the Campeones Cup. They just won the U.S. Open Cup. His team is first in the MLS East. What more can you ask for?”

Robinson  has won 156 duels this season, according to Opta, which is second on Atlanta United and 15th in MLS. He is winning 67.54 percent of his duels, which ranks second in the league. He seems unflappable, receiving just four yellow cards despite the physical play and has been called for fouls just 20 times. By comparison, teammate Leandro Gonzalez Pirez has received eight yellow cards as part of 38 fouls committed in league play.

“He’s really difficult when you play one against one to beat,” said de Boer, who knows something about quality centerbacks because he is one at Ajax and Barcelona. “Because he is fast. He can turn fast. That’s, I think, your worst nightmare as player when you have those kinds of players who are tall, are strong, but can also turn fast and are quick on their feet.”

Robinson credited training against quality players such as Almiron, Josef Martinez, Hector Villalba, Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez as a reason why he has turned into a defender who played a total of 272 minutes in first two seasons into a candidate for Defender of the Year.

“If you can defend them, you can defend, I think, most players in this league,” Robinson said.

Robinson’s skill has also enabled Atlanta United’s offense to come to life because his teammates said they know if they get forward, Robinson can cover long enough to give them time to get back. In the U.S. Open Cup, Gonzalez Pirez bombed forward and that decision resulted in the opening goal. Later in the game, Robinson sprinted back to cover for Gonzalez Pirez, and won a battle with Toye, resulting in the jersey-pulling and arm-grabbing. In the Campeones Cup, centerback Flo Pogba ventured forward and earned a penalty kick.

“He’s shown incredible growth over these two seasons and definitely deserves a call-up,” Escobar said.