Atlanta United centerback Miles Robinson said weeks ago he would be disappointed if he didn’t return this season faster and stronger from the ruptured Achilles he suffered last season.
Check and check.
Robinson played well enough in the team’s first three games to be the only MLS player called into the U.S. men’s national team Wednesday.
“He looks good,” Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “I don’t know if it’s my perception of thinking that he’s faster or stronger or smarter at how to press .... maybe. Or we just forgot how fast and how good he was. Maybe it’s because it’s been a long time. But, overall, he looks fantastic. Better than I expected.”
Robinson has anchored an Atlanta United (2-0-1) defense that has allowed only two goals in its first three games and has limited opponents’ chances to a handful. It will look to build upon the best start in franchise history when it hosts Portland on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The team has yet to give up a set-piece goal, in part because of what Pineda described as Robinson’s ferociousness, after giving up 16 last season. And Robinson’s speed and ability to defend one-on-one has enabled his teammates to aggressively press or counter-press.
“Massively (important),” Pineda said. “I mean, that’s part of why personnel matters, right?”
There have been examples in each of the first three games of an opponent trying to get around Robinson, only to be denied. The best may have been Cade Cowell in the first game against San Jose. He tried three different ways in one sequence, only for Robinson to eventually take the ball.
On offense, Robinson also has improved.
His patience, waiting on a teammate to move into space, with the ball started the play that resulted in Atlanta United’s third goal in Saturday’s 3-0 road win against Charlotte.
“I was never doubting the bigger and stronger and faster part,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “For me, I think the part that’s really impressed me is his calmness on the ball and his ability to find passes and take the ball under pressure and find an outlet.
“If you look in preseason, there were times where maybe he’s tried to hit the (diagonal pass) or maybe he’s tried to hit a ball down the channel or just a bit under pressure, (asking) who would let me get rid of this? Now, I think over the last three weeks, you’ve started to see him, ‘Give me the ball under pressure. Let me hold off the striker and find a ball.’”
Robinson will leave to join the U.S. team in its training camp in Orlando, Florida, after the Portland game. The team is scheduled to play at Grenada on March 24 and against El Salvador in Orlando on March 27. Robinson will miss Atlanta United’s game at Columbus on March 25.
Pineda said he’s aware of conversations between Atlanta United’s front office and the U.S. men’s national team about taking care of Robinson’s continued recovery. Three years ago in October, while with the U.S. team, Robinson sustained a hamstring injury during a training exercise after a game in which he didn’t play. The injury forced him to miss the playoffs.
Robinson returned and helped the U.S. win the Gold Cup and qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
“I think it’s going to be just fine,” Pineda said. “I’m not worried at all Miles going there. I know the U.S. Soccer takes good care of our players. And we have good communication. So I’m not worried.”
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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule
Feb. 25 Atlanta United 2, San Jose Earthquakes 1
March 4 Atlanta United 1, Toronto FC 1
March 11 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte FC 0
March 18 vs. Portland Timbers, 7:30 p.m.
March 25 at Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.
April 1 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.
April 8 at New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.
April 15 at Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m.
April 23 vs. Chicago Fire FC, 4:30 p.m., FS1
April 29 at Nashville SC, 1:30 p.m., Fox
May 6 at Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.
May 13 vs. Charlotte FC, 7:30 p.m.
May 17 vs. Colorado Rapids, 7:30 p.m.
May 20 at Chicago Fire FC, 8:30 p.m.
May 27 at Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m.
May 31 vs. New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m., FS1
June 3 at Los Angeles FC, 10:30 p.m.
June 10 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.
June 21 vs. New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.
June 24 at New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.
July 2 vs. Philadelphia Union, 4 p.m., Fox
July 8 at CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.
July 12 at New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m.
July 15 vs. Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m., FS1
Aug. 20 at Seattle Sounders, 10:30 p.m.
Aug. 26 vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 30 vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 2 at FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Sept. 16 vs. Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 20 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 23 vs. CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 4 at Philadelphia Union, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 7 vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 at FC Cincinnati, TBA
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