Though a surprise starter and having never appeared in an MLS playoff game, Miles Robinson was one of Atlanta United’s best players in its 3-1 win against NYCFC on Sunday, according to manager Gerardo Martino.
“He defended well, which was his main job tonight,” Martino said. “He did a few things that we practiced throughout the week. He did those very well, and I would maybe go as far to say that he was one of our three best players tonight.”
Atlanta United advanced to play New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals. The first leg of the series is Nov. 25.
Though Julian Gressel has earned the playing time, as well as the Rookie of the Year award after the 2017 season, Robinson was actually Atlanta United’s first draft pick at No. 2 after two solid years at Syracuse.
Blessed with speed and athleticism, but not a lot of experience, Robinson didn’t play a minute in the league last year as Michael Parkhurst and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez formed a solid partnership at centerback.
It didn’t appear that Robinson was going to get many opportunities with the senior team this season, either. Still, he made three starts and played well in each, the last coming against Red Bulls at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on May 21.
He came off the bench a few times for a total of 27 minutes in the season’s remaining games. But the 21-year-old gained valuable experience with 14 appearances and more than 1,200 minutes played for Atlanta United 2, the MLS team’s USL affiliate.
So, when he found out early last week that he was going to start against NYCFC in place of the injured Jeff Larentowicz, he felt that he was ready.
“It helped me stay ready for moments like this one tonight,” he said.
Robinson’s tasks were simple: don’t let David Villa get behind him, or let Maxi Moralez find pockets of space.
Robinson didn’t mess around. He made three tackles, including one of Villa in the first half. Villa only spun Robinson once, but Parkhurst swooped in to snuff out the danger.
Robinson committed just one foul and it was a smart play to break up a counterattack in the second half.
“When you have a good team like NYCFC looking for a goal, we knew we would be defending for some periods in the match,” he said. “We did that very well. We were organized and played very well today. It’s a little bit mental and physical for sure. We handled it both very well tonight.”
Unprompted, Robinson was singled out for praise first by Parkhurst and then Miguel Almiron.
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan may have given the best critique of Robinson’s performance.
“To have someone like that get kind of thrown into the deep end, in terms of not really playing a lot of games or a lot of minutes leading up into tonight, to have the performance that he put in tonight, he deserves all the credit in the world,” Guzan said. “I thought he was calm on the ball. I thought he put out fires when things got a little bit dangerous. He closed guys down. He tackled. He won balls in the air. He won second balls. I don’t think he put a foot wrong tonight.”