Miles Robinson is only 21 years old, but he’s already had a few labels, one positive, one less so, in less than two seasons with Atlanta United, which will host the New York Red Bulls in the first leg of the Eastern Conference finals Sunday.
The original, of course, was the “first draft pick in Atlanta United history,” when he was selected No. 2 out of Syracuse in the 2017 SuperDraft as a combination of speed, height and aggressiveness.
The second, as his DNPs piled up in league play last year, became “What’s wrong with Robinson?” or “What’s wrong with (Gerardo) Martino?” A well-known MLS columnist said in Feburary that failing to develop Robinson was Martino’s biggest gaffe last season. With a slight laugh, Robinson seemed to disagree with that sentiment Tuesday.
“I feel very confident in myself, on and off the field,” Robinson said.
That statement didn’t seem to take into account two important things about last season and this season: Robinson would have had to beat out veterans Michael Parkhurst or Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, arguably the best centerback tandem in MLS over the past two seasons, for minutes.
And just because Robinson wasn’t playing doesn’t mean he wasn’t improving during training, on loans with Charleston last season or Atlanta United 2 or by listening to the advice given by his teammates, whom he said are consistently in his ear.
“I definitely feel much more comfortable as a pro, and all aspects of it,” he said.
Despite little chance of playing that first season, Robinson kept pushing himself.
“Sometimes, it’s when you learn about yourself the most,” he said. “You just have to keep grinding.”
The rewards started happening this season, with three starts as part of 10 appearances in the regular season. Then, he was chosen to start in place of the injured Jeff Larentowicz in the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal. Playing beside the physical Gonzalez Pirez and the cerebral Parkhurst, Robinson easily held his own in his first league start since Red Bulls on May 20.
“It can be hard sometimes not getting minutes,” Robinson said.
Several teammates singled him out after the game. Miguel Almiron, who almost always turns every question asked about a teammate into a compliment of the team, broke form by making sure to say how well he thought Robinson played in the 3-1 victory.
“When you come in after 3-4 months, it’s difficult,” Gonzalez Pirez said. “It’s difficult for the rhythm, mentally, the little things. We are very happy with his performance. He exceeded the expectations we have for him.”
Robinson didn’t say if he will start on Sunday against the Red Bulls at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Larentowicz has returned to training. When healthy, the veteran is typically manager Gerardo Martino’s first choice to play either as a defensive midfielder in a 4-2-3-1, or as a centerback when the team switches to a 3-5-2.
“Happy with where I am,” Robinson said. “Hopefully we can build on this.”
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