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Miles Robinson enters Gold Cup with a chance to secure a USMNT starting role


The race to fill the starting centerback role next to John Brooks on the U.S. men’s national team is wide open, and if it feels like Miles Robinson has been a bit late to the party, it is because circumstances have held him back like few other top centerback prospects in the player pool.

The Atlanta United defender heads into the Concacaf Gold Cup slated to start for Gregg Berhalter’s squad, bringing an end to a prolonged wait to see Robinson get an extended chance to impress in the national team setup.

“With Miles it’s pretty clear, he’s just brought in to be a starter on this team,” Berhalter said when the Gold Cup roster was announced. “We think that he needs these games, he needs the international experience to continue his development. We think he’s been doing a good job with Atlanta over these last years, but needs the level of these games to continue his growth.”

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Of all the players poised to gain the most from a good Gold Cup showing, few stand more to gain than Robinson, who will be attempting to bolster his standing in a crowded field of contenders aiming to fill the starting centerback position left open by Aaron Long’s season-ended Achilles injury.

Mark McKenzie was the first to stake a claim, showing well in the USMNT’s recent run through Concacaf Nations League, while other younger prospects such as Chris Richards, Erik Palmer-Brown and Cameron Carter-Vickers are also in the picture.

Robinson may have grabbed the starting role next to Brooks much sooner if not for a series of unfortunate events that have cost him valuable national team opportunities. The drama began in October of 2019, when Robinson suffered an injury in national team camp that cost him a chance to potentially start in an important Concacaf Nations League match against Canada and kept him out of Atlanta United’s push to defend its MLS Cup title in the 2019 playoffs.

Robinson’s injury created a rift between the USMNT and Atlanta United, which proceeded to turn down a call-up request for Robinson in January of 2020. A year later, Robinson had a call-up request for Olympic qualifying also rejected by Atlanta United, costing him a chance to lead the U.S. Under-23 team defense in the Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament.

While the conflict between the USMNT and Atlanta United cost him opportunities, Robinson did his part to keep himself in the picture, solidifying his standing as one of the best defenders in MLS. His combination of size, athleticism and improving passing skills led Berhalter to bring him in back in 2019, and two years later the 24-year-old is a more polished defender and better ball distributor.

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“My first camps with Gregg were definitely learning experiences, getting used to the competition, the level of play, things like this, but also getting to know how he wants to play,” Robinson said. “How we can utilize our six when we’re playing and try to create those line-breaking passes and that’s something I’ve definitely worked on, and tried to improve on.”

Robinson’s breakout 2019 season saw him emerge as one of the most promising central defender prospects in the USMNT pool, but 2020 saw him take a step back in the midst of Atlanta United’s disappointing season. In 2021, Robinson has shown clear improvements in his passing, particularly his progressive passing, while also improving his short passing.

Robinson made the most of his most recent USMNT opportunity, starting and scoring a goal in a 7-0 romp over Panama back in January. His showing in the January camp only served to reinforce his standing as a top centerback prospect, and positioned him to be a starter and leader in Olympic qualifying before Atlanta United blocked his call-up.

Now set to partner with Walker Zimmerman in central defense at the Gold Cup, Robinson has the versatility and experience of playing in a three-centerback system, which should also allow Berhalter to experiment with that look, which is a system the USMNT has used with more frequency in 2021.

A strong showing at the Gold Cup could position Robinson to be a leading candidate to start in central defense when World Cup qualifying begins in September, and while he has already endured his share of obstacles to get to that point, Robinson has done his part to stay in the USMNT picture and this month will be his chance to show he is ready for a regular starting role.


  1. This is why SBI is my go 2! Y’all have Ives spittin bars!! Whoa! Mic drop moment. I don’t know much about the futbol world on twitter or reddit, but if your carry on a convo from another platform…. just let the rest of us know. It’s so confusing when there isn’t any context. It’s not hard, make it soft like the penalty Sterling got against Denmark! Good luck to Miles because the 5 stripes defense sux without him.

  2. The CB positions are, and should be, highly contested. There are a number of players who should be challenging for one of the CB spots in the 23. Robinson is just one of many who deserves a shot at proving they’re capable of contributing. Unfortunately Atlanta, and to an extent Gregg, have prevented Robinson getting an opportunity to prove his ability/worth.
    Robinson, Richards, McKenzie & CCV should all be in consideration. Hopefully they will get their chance(s) to shine….and finally put Ream & Zimmerman out to pasture.

    • I disagree completely with your last point, well the Berhalter part of it, because has been trying to get Robinson into several camps with the usmnt but every time he has Atlanta United thwarted his advances because their contention was that the campa weren’t fifa mandated….that’s on AtlantaU

  3. I don’t really get the rating of Robinson above Richards as a potential starter next to Brooks. Hopefully the Gold Cup will show his level against international competition (once the early games are gone), but I find the general expectation that he’s almost a clear starter to be a bit bizarre.

    • Richards is 20, oft injured, and only has a total of about 11-12 games of full minutes under his belt. Robinson has been an excellent one v one defender, has improved all facets of his game, and has done it over almost 4 years now. He also has played in CCL which is a huge experience plus for CONCACRAP….which is a street fight which is rarely officiated normally. His speed and one v one is a good compliment for Brooks, who as issues on the open field, or out wide when isolated. Richards looks like he will be better in the near future…..but qualies r now. Aaron Longs injury, who complimented Brooks better than anyone we have in the pool, is way under rated. If he was a part timer in Europe somewhere it would have been taken more seriously.

    • I wouldn’t get too caught up in the thoughts of this articles writer, Greg only said he brought Miles into “this” Gold Cup camp to be the starter because he thinks he needs this type of experience to take that next step in his development, not when the full team gets together, so take what’s said in this feature with a grain of salt! There is no question Richards may have more upside than most, if not all of our CB’s in the poll, but he’s had some injuries and needs to nail down consistent minutes with his club, any club!

      • The “thoughts of this article’s writer” are the practical reality of Robinson’s opportunity. The centerback spot next to Brooks is wide open, and if Robinson has a strong Gold Cup he boosts his chances of taking over that spot considerably. Not really sure how anybody can argue that point rationally.

        What seems to be going on is some panic at the idea that Robinson could win the job FOR GOOD, which isn’t said or implied in the article, but since some people struggle with nuance, we wind up with this sort of unnecessary reaction. Robinson playing his way into a starting role for the September qualifiers isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but even if he’s the starter in September it doesn’t mean he keeps the job beyond that. Of course, Robinson could win the job and keep it straight through Qatar, but given all the talent at CB, it would take him having to play at a higher level to pull that off because Richards is on his way and will be hard to deny if he can continue to earn regular club playing time.

        So take that grain of salt and put it on your dinner, because this feature doesn’t need it my friend 😉

    • Help me out here Gabe, exactly who said Robinson is “rated” above Richards? Fact is Robinson was considered for a starting role in 2019 before getting injured, so he’s been in the picture as a potential starter for some time. In terms of whether or not he’s rated higher than Richards, that’s something Berhalter will ultimately decide, but the fact remains this Gold Cup is Robinson’s chance to show he should be the guy.

      As someone who has gone on record multiple times saying Chris Richards is the future of the position, what I will say is right now Robinson has an experience edge, and while Richards should continue to benefit if he can keep getting Bundesliga starts, right now Robinson is more seasoned and therefore it would make sense if Berhalter would rate him higher heading into September’s qualifiers.

      • Hey, Ives! As the first comment in this section, which as you know has its own community of regulars who bicker and banter about what we believe to be ideal lineup choices (and almost all include a player most of us haven’t even watched much of in the first place), I was continuing a debate where in which some have rated Robinson as first choice next to Brooks at the moment with Long injured, as TK has conveniently iterated in his comment. There are plenty of similar debates on Reddit and Twitter (which, for better or for worse, is where a lot of the US Soccer fanbase interacts). So the comment isn’t a response to your article in the sense that I believe YOU rate Robinson > Richards, that Berhalter does, or that you were even offering a comment on too much more than what you think the manager might decide, etc. This is a direct and pre-emptive challenge to any of the comments or members of this community who believe Robinson should be the first choice next to Brooks, and some really do. If I was coming at your rack, Ives, I’d do it on Twitter where you can clap back at me in front of a much larger audience and I can take an L by getting ratio’d 🙂 But yeah, I believe many in the fanbase do rate Robinson higher, and potentially overrate him as a 1v1 defender in MLS versus against elite, international competition, which most of the teams in the Gold Cup are not, based on conversations I’ve had and seen.

      • Fair enough Gabe, and appreciate the response. I wouldn’t let the extreme opinions on either end of the spectrum cloud the reality, which unfortunately happens far too often, especially in the current climate where people overrate young and untested players, and then think it’s justifiable because on a few occasions we actually see a youngster break through and shine (ala Gio and Dest).

        Your own comments on Miles tell me where you stand, and as much as I get MLS isn’t close to as good as Europe’s top leagues, I do think you completely underrate the challenges an MLS centerback can face, and why someone like Robinson has actually gotten PLENTY of high-level experience. MLS teams have never shied away from spending big on strikers, and over the years Miles Robinson has had a chance to play against several elite level strikers, and his performances against some of those elite strikers have only added to the belief that he has top-end defensive ability.

        The whole “it’s only MLS so it’s not really that impressive” trope can be a bit lazy of an approach to take. In general, yes, MLS is clearly a weaker league than the Bundesliga or La Liga, nobody can honestly dispute that, but dismissing the success of players who really thrive in MLS as just “a product of MLS being hella weak” ignores the growing track record of MLS alums doing well once they leave MLS. Jack Harrison was good in MLS and is now very good in the Premier League. Almiron was outstanding in MLS and now holds his own in the Premier League. Yangel Herrera, Tyler Adams, Aaronson, McKenzie (and you would have seen Aaron Long too if Red Bulls didn’t refuse to sell), we’re seeing more and more MLS players being able to make the jump and actually hold up very well. That SHOULD pump the brakes on the lazy “it’s only MLS” talk, but it doesn’t. We could go deeper and point the reality that at certain positions it’s easier for players to shine in MLS, and those players may not be nearly as close to challenging the elite, but that’s a serious tangent I won’t dig into now.

        And hey, to be clear, that doesn’t mean every player who does well in MLS can do well in Europe, but you can see the elite talents, the skill sets and tools that can translate well to higher levels and to the international game. Robinson has a skill set (strength, athleticism, poise, calm on the ball, improved passing) that make him a very good prospect both for European clubs and the USMNT. Just because he hasn’t made a move yet doesn’t mean he’s not on that level.

        As for the Richards-Robinson thing, obviously you’ll get Atlanta fans who go overboard on Robinson, and you’ll get the “Eurosnob” set who will crap on Robinson and call Richards a future David Alaba, but the truth is somewhere in the middle, and that’s where I try to reside with laying out of the reality. Richards has crazy upside, and I’d put my money on him ultimately being a better player than Robinson in a few years (and heck, he could break through by October/November), but if you’re asking me who I start in El Salvador in September, I’m going to go with the guy who has about 100 more first-team matches. Of course, Robinson has to take the first step this month and have a strong Gold Cup.

        And I know I don’t dive into the comments here very often, rarely in fact, but I just happened to notice some things that kind of sounded like some folks had taken this Robinson piece as some proclamation that being John Brooks’ centerback partner was already Miles Robinson’s job. I’m also probably going to be spending a lot more time in the comments section of the new site I’ll be launching soon.

      • I think when we’re talking about MLS competition versus European leagues, sometimes we’re talking about two different things. The first, and I rather agree with you on this Ives, is the actual standard of play in MLS from week to week, which is improving every year and leaps and bounds ahead of where it was even a decade ago. This tends to be mythologized by both sides of the argument, one side pretending MLS is a higher standard than it is and the other pretending it’s still 2004 MLS level. For me, especially when it comes to the CB position, my criticisms of MLS players – which, unlike some of the more stereotypical “euro snob” USMNT fans, is a league I actually do watch quite a bit of – stem less from whether or not a CB is going to face a few good strikers or not, but rather concerning the general level of competitiveness in the league as a whole from day to day and week to week. This isn’t an original critique, or even a critique at all really. It’s just a reality, something we’ve heard in different ways from Jermaine Jones, to Tyler Adams, to Matt Miazga, to Brenden Aaronson, and the list goes on: the MLS isn’t as intense in its competition, in matches and especially in training. You get less time and space on the ball, the tactics tend to be more advanced, the coaching staffs more demanding. Does that mean really important MLS matches in the playoffs or Derbys aren’t super intense, played at a high-standard, or that they aren’t entertaining and/or featuring good players? Of course not. However, there are players in MLS that coast a lack of being pushed for their spot internally and who benefit from smaller consequences if they lose externally. There is no promotion and relegation. There is not huge community uproar. They aren’t incentivized to be as driven as their European league counterparts, unless that drive comes from a desire to move abroad, and are potentially not as consistently dialed in mentally over 90min as a result of this sometimes lackadaisical reality. I think of Omar Gonzalez, who was at one point the top CB in MLS for a few years running, and remember the lack of focus in big moments and the many games he would seem to just shrink away when the pressure was on. I think about a Jordan Morris, who was being hailed by many fans and some pundits as a top top level player, who plays exceptionally well against regional minnows and in the MLS games he really gets hype for, but also tends to drift in and out against bigger teams, has never put up truly elite and head-turning numbers even in MLS, and while this part. isn’t completely fair, didn’t have nearly the kind of loan impact before his injury that a Donovan had at Everton, a Dike had in the Championship, a Timothy Weah had at Celtic, etc. That might seem like a high-standard to hold our players to, but frankly when you weigh the talents in the best XI like Reyna, Pulisic, Adams, McKennie, Brooks, Dest, Weah, Musah, Aaronson, etc. against a player like Morris who seems somewhat overrated by some pro-MLS media and section of the USMNT fanbase that seems stuck in a Napoleonic syndrome that sees any honest assessment of how MLS needs to continue to grow as an outright condemnation of the league, I think there’s a tendency to wonder if Miles Robinson is being overhyped and overrated as well. I don’t think it’s too much to expect that our players be mentally competitive at the highest level. Robinson is clearly talented, I have no questions there. He may make a move over to Europe, and that doesn’t mean that he automatically becomes better by osmosis the moment he gets signed. But, right now as things stand today, can I trust him against a big international team in an important match, or even a high-pressure qualifier, to not mentally check out because high stakes like this aren’t regular happenings in his level of competition? Do I trust that he will remain dialed in for 90min? I don’t know. In the same way that you’d take a player with more matches played in MLS, I’m gonna take a player with more upside that plies his trade in a shark tank environment every day (and I mean actually playing, not simply on the books), against some of the best people internationals on the planet where one or two big errors might end them up buried at the end of the bench. I’m gonna pick a player who won’t get blinded by the lights, who won’t respect the opponent too much, and won’t be conditioned to slacken. I think that’s my general mentality concerning the MLS versus abroad roster selections argument, but I also submit that the prejudice may be unfair and is always up for being utterly disproven.

      • Of course Morris played 132 minutes before tearing his ACL it took Dike over 200 minutes to score his first goal, Donovan took 176 minutes (not counting his 400 scoreless minutes in Bundesliga). Also Europe based defenders never make mistakes under pressure Miazga, Ream, Brooks, Yedlin and McKenzie those guys have never made a mistake in high pressure situations, just Omar right?

      • Hey Ives! Well, for the sake of argument, I was in no way trying to diminish the contributing writer, moreso just highlighting that Greg was quoted as saying that Miles brought into this camp to be the starter for Gold Cup, and some took that to mean Greg meant when the full team gets together, but it wasn’t exactly made clear as the article continued. Miles has talent and ability, and could absolutely compete for a starting spot next to John Brooks, Im just more concerned with how he fares with this group for the GC before we get ahead of ourselves

    • Gabe not sure who you interact with on reddit or Twitter but it sounds like you must be dealing with ATLU fans. I can’t think of any regular here that rates Robinson above Richards. I did have an ATL fan in late 2019 arguing Carleton was at that time still better than Tim Weah so maybe your just dealing with homer fans.


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