Atlanta United defender Miles Robinson works against C.S. Herediano in their Concacaf Champions League soccer match on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Kennesaw. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Miles Robinson has been one of Atlanta United’s best players

Miles Robinson has performed well enough that his Atlanta United teammates say he’s arguably been their best player through seven games.

The centerback has faced some very skilled or very physical strikers this season, including Rogelio Funes-Mori, Dorlan Pabon and Aviles Hurtado of Monterrey, Wayne Rooney of D.C. United, Fanendo Adi of Cincinnati and Cory Burke of Philadelphia.

Not only has the centerback performed so well in Champions League and MLS, he been called up to the U.S. Under-23 national team. U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter told soccerbyives.com that he’s excited about his potential.

“He’s training, playing and showing his form from the start,” said Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer, who once was one of the world’s best centerbacks. “He’s an unbelievable athlete and just a normal guy who wants to play football and work hard. When you play against these kind of opponents or in tournaments like the Champions League, you see those players grow because they are playing against very tough opponents and for him it’s a great experience. We have to treasure that he’s now playing on this high level because he’s still young.”

Robinson was selected by Atlanta United as its first pick (No. 2) in its first SuperDraft. His speed, height and athleticism were too enticing a package to not select for a team that wanted to build up the center of its formation.

What he didn’t have was experience and refinement because he played just two years in college at Syracuse. He was raw, which can be either a blessing or a curse, depending upon a player’s age.

It was a blessing for Robinson, who was just 19 years old when he was drafted.

So, most of his first two years with Atlanta United were spent training, watching and learning either as a reserve with Atlanta United, or with the team’s USL squad, Atlanta United 2. 

“Obviously, there are veterans all around me, and it helps learning from them and them teaching me along the way, which they have been doing for the past two years,” Robinson said. “Now, it is my time to show what I have.”

Robinson learned about positioning, how to uses his body, how to use his speed and how to use his feet because passing was admittedly something he needed to work on.

“You could see the talent there the last couple years and he just didn’t get a huge opportunity to play, and he’s taken his opportunity and run with it, and now, we can’t take him off the field,” Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst said.

And now he is confident, something de Boer and has staff have helped him find and something he said in February have been missing the two previous years under former manager Gerardo Martino.

“When you have a coaching staff that has faith in you, you will automatically play better,” Robinson said. “More confident. That’s how I’ve been playing.”

Add confidence to his developing experience and physical skills and it makes for a hard-to-beat mixture.

“That’s what happens when you get chances and you play well to take those chances,” Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “You continue to produce quality performances. He gets everything that’s coming his way. He’s been probably one of our best players this season.”

A play from Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Philadelphia is an example of how far Robinson has come. Fifa Picault finally got away from Robinson, rounded Guzan and shot at an empty net for what appeared to be an easy goal. That was until Robinson, who hadn’t given up on the play, sprinted in and cleared the ball off the line to keep the game scoreless. It was the second time this season that Robinson made a goal-saving play after also doing so in the first Champions League game at Herediano.

That wasn’t the only example of Robinson frustrating Philadelphia. Picault and Burke took Robinson on one-on-one a few times. Each time they were turned away.

And when Robinson does get the ball, he seems much more comfortable with his passing than he did as a rookie. Though Robinson doesn’t try long diagonals, something de Boer said he doesn’t need to do yet, he usually makes the accurate, smart pass, even when he’s under pressure.

Though still not comfortable doing interviews, Robinson is growing in confidence talking to his teammates. During games, he can be seen leading the line, which includes Parkhurst and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, two players who finished top five in last year’s MLS Defender of the Year voting, with arm motions and conversations about where they should be set up. He’s barking at assistant referees when he thinks they missed an offside, which happened on the goal-saving clearance.

“I think it’s impressive, I really do,” Berhalter told SoccerbyIves. “We’ve been watching him and seeing him play and I’ve been impressed with him. He’s been asked to do a lot so far based on what’s been happening, but I think that he’s done a good job.

“I see him growing in the leadership and the competing. He’s starting to come out more and stand out in games, whereas before he’d play games and you wouldn’t really notice him. Now, you’re starting to notice and I think that’s a great thing for him, for Atlanta and the U.S. national team.”

As Robinson continues to grow, Atlanta United’s supporters are embracing him with a proposed chant based upon on the Simon and Garfunkel classic: “Here’s to you, Miles Robinson.”

“I am just trying to go out there and play hard every day, and that is what I have been doing, and I am just happy I am still out on the field,” Robinson said.

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