There are worse injuries that can befall soccer players than a torn Achilles tendon, but not too many. And when Miles Robinson’s left Achilles ruptured during Atlanta United’s 4-1 home win over Chicago Fire FC last May, the worst pain that followed, even through a surgical repair and months of painstaking rehabilitation, was of the psychological variety.
“I watched most of the World Cup from my couch with my family,” Robinson told reporters from central Florida on Tuesday, as he takes part in his first US men’s national team camp since the injury that denied him a place in Qatar.
“It was definitely tough at some moments, more mentally than physically,” he said of his recovery. “The first few months, when you can't really walk, is definitely tough. Then towards the end when I could get out on the field. But watching the World Cup was also mentally pretty tough. I use it for motivation at this point. I'm so grateful to be back out here with this team.”
Such costly setbacks can be agonizing, to say nothing of the long, repetitive, physically testing and often lonely therapies required to regain full health.
“Yeah, there's definitely a lot of calf raises involved in the rehab,” he added with a faint, fleeting smile. “That's for sure.”
Even after that, nagging doubts can persist, both internally and externally, and the usual confidence doesn’t always return on command.
“He's someone that has been out for a long time, he had a terrible injury, it was such a shame,” said interim head coach Anthony Hudson, who brought Robinson into this month’s camp instead of next month’s predominantly domestic-based squad to limit wear and tear on his freshly-healed tendon.
“We all felt terribly for him because one, he’s just a really, really good guy, good human being and a really important player. So for him to miss that much soccer and international soccer, and also the World Cup, was tough, was very tough for him.”
Back at his best?
Robinson revealed he tapped up a USMNT teammate and occasional MLS rival who’d gone through the process not long before him and healed in time to make the plane to Doha.
“I’ve got to thank my family, they're always there supporting me,” said Robinson. “All the physios in Atlanta, some physios even here with the national team helped me out. [LAFC’s] Aaron Long, you know, I was definitely texting him throughout the whole process.
“Just all those people, loved ones that kind of kept my head grounded and focused on my recovery.”
Sitting next to the Boston-area native on Tuesday was Tim Ream, a fellow center back who years ago walked the path some expect Robinson to follow at the end of this season: moving from MLS to one of Europe’s biggest stages, in his case, the English Premier League with Fulham FC.
Turns out Ream’s been putting his MLS Season Pass subscription to good use, keeping tabs on the league’s USMNT contingent, with Robinson already turning heads with the apparent speed at which he’s found top form, or something close to it, in the 2023 campaign’s opening weeks.
“I've caught a few games – the perks of having Apple TV, now being able to watch him play and others play. And he looks back to the Miles that we all know, which is not always guaranteed after what he's gone through and the injury that he had,” said Ream.
“But to see him come out on the other side, and to have him back in here with the group has been great. And to watch him today in training, doing the things that he's always done, is a good sign. Because obviously, up to the point of the injury he was flying, he was a major part of the group and a major part of qualifying. So to have him back is only going to be a big positive for the team.”
"I'm just happy to be back"
Robinson has been one of MLS’s top defenders since finally gaining the chance to start regularly for the Five Stripes in 2019, earning MLS Best XI presented by Continental Tire honors in '19 and '21, helping ATLUTD win US Open Cup and Campeones Cup trophies and anchoring the USMNT's run to a Gold Cup title. Though the horrendous timing of his Achilles injury hit like a punch to the gut, he seems to have attacked the road back with the same focus and composure he shows on the pitch.
“There's definitely some pain I felt, but I think it was kind of finite, where maybe the first few weeks were tough,” he explained. “After that I kind of understood, this is the facts, this is the circumstances and I just have to get back out there, focus on every single day, how it lays out, and not really worry too much about the future. That's kind of been my mindset throughout my whole career.”
His current ATL contract runs out at season’s end. He’s got substantial competition on the USMNT’s central defense depth chart, a locked-in starter alongside Nashville SC’s Walker Zimmerman during the Qatar 2022 cycle. And with Hudson the interim boss for at least a few more months while the federation’s search for a new sporting director unfolds, no one is entirely sure what the program’s future holds. Yet Robinson's a pragmatic sort who doesn’t see much point in dwelling on the known unknowns.
More than half a year on the sidelines has helped with that.
“At this point, I'm just happy to be back, happy to be back competing with these guys and proving myself,” said Robinson. “I don't really think too far in the future, personally. I kind of just take it day by day, focused on tomorrow's session, trying to play my best, show what I can do to contribute to this team, however any coach will see me.”