"Excellent" Miles Robinson steps up for Atlanta's defense in win over NYCFC

ATLANTA — To advance to the Eastern Conference Championship, a team like Atlanta United needed their brightest stars — like Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron — to shine on the game’s biggest stage. But after a grueling, eight-month-long season, sometimes you just need a player to step into the spotlight and perform his role like a professional.

That’s exactly what Atlanta United defender Miles Robinson did on Sunday in a 3-1 win against NYCFC, as he put in a solid defensive shift in place of the injured Jeff Larentowicz.

After match on Sunday, Almiron praised Robinson — unprompted — as the unsung hero of the match.

 “A lot of guys have stepped up, and I want to highlight Miles for tonight’s performance,” he said through a translator. “I say it was like a debut for him because he hasn’t been playing in a while, and it was a big match, and he stepped in and did really well.”

“Miles was one of our best players tonight,” Atlanta United manager Tata Martino added through a translator at his post-match press conference. “He defended well, which was his main job tonight. 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.”

The 21-year-old defender was the second overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft out of Syracuse University. Julian Gressel was Atlanta’s second pick that year, but while Gressel went on to win MLS Rookie of the Year honors, Robinson didn’t play a single minute in MLS last season.

This season, Robinson has been a regular for the Fives Stripes’ USL affiliate, ATL UTD 2, and Sunday marked only his fourth first-team start of 2018. His previous start came in May against the New York Red Bulls, and since then, he’s played a total of 27 minutes in 6 brief MLS appearances.

However, Robinson was able to step in for the injured Larentowicz and play for the entire 90 minutes, only the third time he’s done so in his brief MLS career.

“I thought [Robinson] was excellent today, plain and simple,” said teammate Brad Guzan. “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.”

Robinson had a tough assignment against the dynamic NYCFC attack. He succeeded in locking Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, New York’s second-leading scorer this year, and providing cover for center backs Michael Parkhurst and Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez, particularly in the first half against NYCFC playmaker Maxi Moralez.

“When you have a good team like NYCFC looking for a goal, we knew we would be defending for some periods in the match,” said Robinson. “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.”

It’s a good bet that Larentowicz, who before Sunday hadn’t missed a match all year, will do whatever he can to get healthy for the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship on Nov. 25 at home against the New York Red Bulls (5 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN, TVAS).

But if Robinson is called upon again, his teammates will no doubt be confident in him after his performance against NYCFC.

“I thought he was calm on the ball,” said Guzan. “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.”