FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – It’s been a turbulent start to 2019 for Atlanta United.
The offseason departures of Tata Martino and Miguel Almiron, the ongoing adjustments of first-year head coach Frank de Boer and new Designated Player Pity Martinez and the middling form of 2018 MLS MVP Josef Martinez have led to an awkward couple of months for the defending champions, who are just 1-2-2 in MLS action and haven’t yet clicked in league or Concacaf Champions League play.
Through the turmoil, an unexpected constant has emerged for the Five Stripes: Miles Robinson. After appearing in just 12 regular season and playoff games across his first two years as a pro, the No. 2 overall selection in the 2017 SuperDraft has become a rock in 2019.
The 22-year-old defender is the only field player to play every minute of Atlanta’s nine league and CCL matches this season. Almost all his time has come at center back, where he’s unseated captain Michael Parkhurst as the preferred starter next to Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. He’s deserved every one of his minutes. Robinson has been one of Atlanta’s best players, showing well in their CCL quarterfinal series loss to Monterrey, shining as one of a few bright spots in disappointing results against FC Cincinnati and the Philadelphia Union, then helping keep a shutout in Saturday’s 2-0 win at the New England Revolution.
“It’s amazing,” de Boer said when asked about Robinson’s progression following Saturday’s win. “Of course, I didn’t know him that well [when I arrived], I saw some footage of him on the video, but still you have to see him live and it’s [been] fantastic. A fantastic person; he’s been unbelievable. He’s making steps forward and every week he’s very eager to learn. I think everybody is happy that he’s with us, because he’s doing great.”
Robinson’s solid start wasn’t wholly expected by de Boer, who has singled out the Boston-area native as a pleasant surprise multiple times since the start of preseason. His rise hasn’t exactly come out of nowhere, however. Though he didn’t feature often, Robinson did well when he took the field in 2018. He worked hard in training and was patient and attentive off the field, where he impressed his teammates with his willingness to learn and his even-keeled attitude in the face of limited minutes.
“Miles has been very crucial for us this year. He’s stepped in and done his job really well,” Atlanta midfielder and fellow 2017 first-round draft pick Julian Gressel told reporters after Saturday’s match. “He’s got a lot of quality, obviously, in his defending. We all knew he had that, but even playing out of the back, he’s really been better. He makes the right decisions, he doesn’t give the ball away as easily when playing out of the back, he’s confident, so in that way he’s learned a lot. It’s not really too much of a surprise to me this year that he’s come in after two years of kind of being on the backend of things and [done well]. Whenever he played in those two years, I think you could really see a glimpse of what Miles Robinson could be.”
Robinson, who spent time with the U.S. Under-23s last month as they begin building up to 2020 Olympic qualifying, described his growth in similar terms as Gressel. He looks back at his first two years as nothing but “beneficial,” a time when he learned about himself, life as a pro and all facets of being a center back. When de Boer arrived this winter, he knew he’d have a chance at an expanded role. He took advantage of that opportunity to earn a starting role. He doesn’t have any designs on giving it back.
“You just go in every day trying to improve and this year I’ve had an opportunity to show what I can provide on the field,” he told MLSsoccer.com over the phone last week. “I’m happy I’ve gotten that opportunity, but by no means am I taking my foot off the gas.”