Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino usually seems bemused when asked if younger players on the MLS team are going to make the 18 on game days.
His answer almost always includes the player’s age. It’s a soft exclamation point and rebuke that this is a professional league with important stakes, so he will players that he feels are ready.
One of those players, 21-year-old defender Miles Robinson, didn’t play in a league game for the team last season. Instead, after being selected with the second pick in the 2017 SuperDraft, the Syracuse product worked on the training ground with the senior team, and spent some time with the Charleston Battery.
This season, he again spent the early part of the season working with the senior team, and also spent some time with Atlanta United 2.
That work is starting to pay off.
Robinson has made two starts with the senior team this season and performed well in the 5-0 win against LAFC on April 7 and again in last week’s 2-1 win against Orlando City.
“As I said after the LAFC game, he’s ready,” Martino said. “He’s a player who's improved a lot over the course of the last year. So we know he’s ready to play on days when he has to step up and help us out like today."
Robinson kept things simple with his defending, staying close to his mark at all times and using his speed to recover on counters, and his passing -- his biggest weakness -- against the Lions. Facing veteran Justin Meram, Robinson held his own with two exceptions. Once, Meram was able to turn Robinson and create enough space to get off a shot. Goalkeeper Alec Kann got down low to his right to make the save. The second came when Kann punched away a shot. The deflection came right to Meram, who scored. Robinson didn’t have enough time to react. He attempted a tackle, but the play happened too quickly.
“It was a difficult ball,” he said. “I need to watch it again. Looking back, I would try to do something different.”
Martino said Robinson hasn’t played more because of the depth on the back line. Robinson may have started against Orlando City because of injuries to Chris McCann (hamstring) and Franco Escobar (chest).
Robinson may not start again for Sunday’s games against New York Red Bulls at Mercedes-Benz Stadium because it seems likely that Martino will switch from 3-5-2 formation that uses three centerbacks to a 4-3-3 that uses two centerbacks. Atlanta United is unbeaten in nine games using the 3-5-2, but the Red Bulls like to play from the back. Martino has said that teams he prefers the 4-3-3 against are teams that build play from the back.
Robinson doesn’t seem worried.
“I’m just trying to go and compete, play my best and that’s all I can do,” he said. “It’s up to the coaching staff to determine anything else. I’m happy that I got the opportunity to play again.”