What does Miles Robinson's injury mean for him and the USMNT? Plus Open Cup and youth report
May 10, 2022
REGULAR READERS OF ASN know that the typical routine is for the week to start with separate pieces breaking down the weekend in Americans Abroad and MLS. Then the rest of the week begins – absent any huge breaking news story. This week’s MLS piece is going to start a bit differently.
We’ll talk about Miles Robinson and his brutal Achilles injury that will keep him out of the 2022 World Cup. This is the tough side of the game because Robinson has been so important to the U.S. team over the past year. Then we will get into some MLS topics.
Robinson’s injury is a big setback
As everyone knows now, Miles Robinson ruptured his Achilles on Saturday in Atlanta’s 4-1 win over Chicago. He underwent surgery and the typical timetable means we won’t see him return to action until 2023. It happens every cycle where injuries cost some players the opportunity to compete in the World Cup. This is particularly brutal.
Robinson was a raw player coming out of college but began learning the central defense position at a high level with Atlanta during Tata Martino’s 2018 team. He broke into the first team on a regular basis under Frank de Boer and became one of the league’s top defenders.
Robinson, 24, was named to the U.S. roster for the Gold Cup last summer and seized the opportunity in a impressive way. He was widely considered to be the best player in the tournament (even though he didn’t win the award) and he scored the winner against Mexico.
What was even more noteworthy about Robinson is that he was critical to the U.S. team at the start of World Cup qualifying as the team struggled out of the game. He gave the team a lifeline in the first two windows. He struggled against Canada in January but otherwise had a great qualifying run.
In his three games against Mexico over the past nine months, Robinson played 300 minutes and Mexico didn’t score when he was on the field. It was defensive performances like that which is why World Cup qualifying was ultimately successful.
Robinson is a tough loss for the U.S. team because he was the most athletic central defender in the pool. Sometimes his positioning would let him down, but the high levels of the game require a unique level of athleticism from central defenders (which is why Tim Ream struggles in the Premier League despite being a phenomenal defender in the Championship). Robinson has that level of athleticism, and it would have been important to have on the World Cup team, even if he was a bench option.
The U.S. has other central defense options and Gregg Berhalter will be sorting through them in the summer to find his pairings. Walker Zimmerman, Erik Palmer-Brown and Aaron Long were all part of the last window of qualifying. Chris Richards would have been if he were healthy. Plus, John Brooks looms large, despite struggling to get called up, and Tim Ream is a very dependable option despite not having been with the team since the early stage of qualifying. Then there is Cameron Carter-Vickers who was named to the Scottish Premiership’s team of the season for a Celtic team who will win the title, likely this week. Mark McKenzie has faded a bit, but he could sneak back into the picture if he plays well for Genk.
The eight players listed above (Zimmerman, Richards, EPB, CCV, Long, Ream, Brooks, & McKenzie) are the central defense pool and it’s hard to see anyone else getting into the picture before the World Cup. Maybe James Sands, but so long as Rangers uses him as a defensive midfielder, it is very unlikely. Matt Miazga has just lost too much stock at the moment.
Berhalter has options but Robinson was critical getting the U.S. to this point and his athleticism helped him stand out. Replacing him will not be as easy as it seems – despite the emergence of players like CCV and EPB in 2022.
For Atlanta, it could see George Campbell increase his responsibilities on the backline. The young central defender from Pennsylvania is out with an adductor injury but should be returning later in the month. He’s a promising player and now could embrace the “next man up” in Atlanta to showcase himself – perhaps on the international level as he is Olympic eligible should the U-20 team qualify.
It’s a terrible heartbreak for Robinson but to end on a positive note, I don’t think he’s played his last game for the U.S. team. Central defense has been a weakness for the last two U.S. U-20 cycles (the cancelled 2021 cycle and the current 2023 cycle). There aren’t young players close to pushing on the existing core. Then you will probably see players like Long, Zimmerman, Brooks, and Ream age out of the pool during the next cycle. That leaves Robinson (should he recover well), Richards, McKenzie, EPB, and CCV as the top five central defenders. Sands and Miazga are possibilities depending on how next season goes.
Such a discussion is a long way off. For now, all U.S. fans and Atlanta fans can do is wish Robinson a successful recovery that gets him back to his 2021 form ASAP.
U.S Open Cup continues this week
Some notes on the fourth round matchups today.
Jim Curtin has announced that he will start his U.S. U-20 midfield contingent of Paxten Aaronson, Jack McGlynn, and Quinn Sullivan. Perhaps Brandon Craig will also get the start in central defense. Philadelphia visits Orlando on Thursday night.
As @thegoalkeeper reports, a good chunk of the U.S U-20 team will be starting for the Philadelphia Union tomorrow in the Open Cup vs Orlando: Paxten Aaronson, Quinn Sullivan, & Jack McGlynn will get the nod - per Jim Curtin. https://t.co/CZTB03W9XV— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) May 9, 2022
FC Dallas came off a nice win this weekend over a rotated Seattle team and Americans such as Jesus Ferreira and Paul Arriola have been leading the way. Paxton Pomykal has also looked like the once-promising player he was in 2019 before a wave of injuries slowed his career. Dallas will visit a struggling Sporting Kansas City team on Tuesday night.
What a season for #USMNT Jesus Ferreira, he keeps scoring and his 7th puts him tied for the league lead. Nice team goal here. Big 1-0 lead on a Sounders team that started mostly reserves. Ferreira passes his father in FCD goals. pic.twitter.com/QvMFYXnSMJ— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) May 8, 2022
On Wednesday, he New England Revolution, who are trying to overcome a slow start to the MLS season, host a Cincinnati team that is vastly improved and who won’t finish with the “wooden spoon” this year – for the first time. FC Cincinnati coach Pat Noonan was a great player for the Revs from 2003-2007 and after his career was an assistant coach to Bruce Arena on the Galaxy and the U.S. national team.
The New York Red Bulls will visit DC United on Tuesday and the Red Bulls are one of the toughest teams to figure out with their winning ways on the road along with their home struggles. As one of the oldest rivalries in MLS, it has continued over to the Open Cup. DC United are very reliant on Taxiarchis Fountas who has Fountas has four goals and an assist in 247 minutes.
John Tolkin: The New York Red Bulls left back put forth a steady outing on Saturday in a 1-1 draw with Portland. He is certainly one to watch right now because his consistency means he is establishing a floor – one of a left back for one of the league’s best teams. That’s a good floor. Now he has to work on raising his ceiling. He is a player who should be in the Olympic pool of the U-20’s qualify.
Obed Vargas: Days after winning the CONCACAF Champions League, Vargas started for Seattle against Dallas. Vargas is just 16 and is now a champion. With Joao Paulo out for the season, Vargas will have to log a lot of minutes this season. Despite the 2-0 loss to Dallas, Vargas looked comfortable in the starting role and is very mature beyond his years.
Gaga Slonina: The much-heralded Chicago Fire teenage goalkeeper is having a tough time as Chicago is crashing back to reality after their respectable start. The 4-1 loss to Atlanta is representative of what’s going on. Chicago was keeping clean sheets in part because of Slonina but also because of a good job of not allowing shots. Slonina is making more saves than he did at the start of the season but he’s also under a complete onslaught as his defense falls apart. It’s a tough position right now.
Caleb Wiley: In a bit of a concern, Atlanta United left back Caleb Wiley only played a handful of minutes after he was subbed on in the second half of the win over Chicago. Unfortunately, he was forced out later in the half after his ankle was stepped on. He’s one of the top young left back prospects and U-20 qualifying is a month away. For a lot of reasons, it is very important that he gets healthy. Atlanta United needs him and so does the U.S. U-20 team.
Ben Bender: Ben Bender is one of the top rookies in MLS and it shows there is still very good talent in the draft. The Charlotte attacking midfielder did his part to keep his team on the front foot of a 1-0 win over Miami.
Damian Rivera: The young forward for New England scored in his first start against Inter Miami last weekend. He didn’t score in the team’s 2-2 draw vs. Columbus but was dangerous while playing on the left wing before getting subbed out in the 67th minute.