MARIETTA, Ga. — Frank de Boer has more selection headaches after declaring center back Miles Robinson out of Atlanta United’s Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs Round One matchup against the New England Revolution. And he’s not happy about it.
Atlanta United’s manager was visibly frustrated speaking to reporters Thursday as he discussed the loss of Robinson after pulling his left hamstring in a post-match training session after the US men’s national team’s 7-0 demolition over Cuba.
“We already communicated that we didn't want him to do too much because he had a long season, he's not used to playing that many games, and that he's doing well, but take care of him,” De Boer said Thursday. “And he did — in my point of view — too much after the match. Maybe also he would have [suffered the same injury] in one of our games. But we especially said 'just take it easy with him.' They didn't do it.
“We have to have a really serious discussion with the federation that it doesn't [happen] again because this is a crucial stage of the whole year where we really were fighting hard to [get to the playoffs],” De Boer added. “I don't know if he can play the second or third [games] if we go through. It's not good for him, but also not for the USA. He's a USA player and you want to perform at the highest level when there's a lot of tension and pressure on. That's taken away from him. So we have to have a good conversation like adults and say 'If we say this, you have to respect it.' We're not saying for [no reason] that he has to take a little bit off, because it's already a very tough season for him.”
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De Boer expressed his disappointment for the young center back who finished third in the 2019 MLS Defender of the Year vote after featuring in every regular season game for Atlanta United. In total, Robinson has played 3,921 minutes across 45 games in all competitions this season — his first as a regular starter at the professional level. His absence Saturday against New England (1 pm ET | Univision, TUDN in US; TVAS, TSN4 in Canada) means De Boer will have to re-evaluate his lineup and tactics.
“Those small details are always decisive in big games,” said De Boer. “We know that if somebody breaks loose from the opponent, there's always Miles able to recover. With his speed, we don't have that right now, so we have to be aware — also up front — that we do even more to [prevent] these kinds of situations and recognize those moments to press forward or drop a little bit back... all those things are going to be crucial on Saturday.”
The manager’s acknowledgement that the team will need to defend from the front without Robinson sparks more debate over whether midfielder Pity Martinez — who De Boer dropped to the bench when the two teams played on Decision Day presented by AT&T — will crack the starting XI. De Boer has criticized Martinez’s play at times this year, and it seems likely that De Boer will have to decide whether he or Ezequiel Barco starts alongside Josef Martinez.
“I always put the team in what — in my point of view and in good conversation with my staff — which team can have the most chance to win,” said De Boer. “If it's with both [Barco and Pity] then it's with both. If it's with one of them, it's with one of them. I will choose what I think is the best chance that we can win the game. It doesn't always mean you put your best players on the pitch, but in my point of view, you put your best team on the pitch.”