The FIFA World Cup kicking off from Qatar brought the international soccer community together. The play in the group stage has proven to be both memorable and exciting, from individual performances to heroic late comebacks.
Yet for Atlanta United supporters, it’s difficult to let go of the fact that a player should be joining Thiago Almada as one of our own to represent his country in Qatar. This momentous occasion should mark the World Cup debut of Miles Robinson, center back for the 5-Stripes and a player who made significant contributions to help the United States men’s national team qualify for this year’s competition.
Robinson was poised to play a big role in Qatar. The 6-foot-2 defender established himself as an important player for U.S. men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter. In 21 international appearances, Robinson scored three total goals for the Americans. The 25-year-old started 11 of the team’s World Cup Qualifying matches, including the match on March 30 against Costa Rica that earned the qualification for the U.S.
However, in a devastating turn, Robinson suffered an injury early in Atlanta United’s 2022 season. The extended recovery meant the end of his club season – and his path to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, a lifelong dream that Robinson had worked so hard to fulfill.
“It sucks,” Robinson says. “Especially knowing the importance of this year in my career, it’s super disappointing. But it happens, you know.”
The injury occurred during Atlanta’s 4-1 win over Chicago Fire on May 7. Robinson started the match as captain, taking the armband in place of goalkeeper Brad Guzan who endured a season-ending injury himself just three weeks earlier. In the match, the 5-Stripes opened up the scoring and were ahead 1-0 when Robinson recalls taking a bad step around the 14th minute:
“I was just pretty much taking a step forward. It was somewhat awkward because I’m kind of trying to head the ball, but I immediately think someone kicked me from behind. And then you look behind you and there’s no one there. And that’s when I knew immediately that I tore my Achilles.”
The hush inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium encapsulated the despair of the moment. 17s were crushed to see their young, star center back go down – especially knowing what it might mean for his personal goals. In a World Cup year, a serious injury would indicate Robinson’s status for his national team was potentially at stake. Robinson showed emotion with an immediate, visceral reaction. He punched the turf in frustration and disappointment, then was taken off the pitch.
“It was one of those things that didn’t physically hurt, but mentally just to get carted off is a psychological blow that really kind of stinks,” he says.
An outpouring of support for Robinson followed. Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda was visibly shaken when speaking to media at halftime and after the match. Teammates expressed deep remorse and unwavering support for their center back. Fans of U.S. soccer also voiced their heartbreak. Berhalter issued a statement, crediting Robinson for what he meant to U.S. Soccer and wishing for a strong recovery.
“Whenever we found it was the Achilles injury, I was just heartbroken,” Atlanta United midfielder Amar Sejdić says. “One, because he’s a really good friend of mine. And two, knowing that he would miss the World Cup in Qatar. And that’s something that he was just such an important factor bringing the team to that position. So, I think that’s [the injury] that hurt me the most.”
The ruptured Achilles tendon to his left leg was the first major injury of Robinson’s career. Before 2022, the most serious injury he’d faced was a torn hamstring. That type of recovery might require several weeks, but it didn’t compare to what Robinson faced this time around.
“I’ve torn my hamstring pretty bad where I knew I was going to be out for a while,” Robinson says. “Something like this you know how long it’s going to take, but you don’t really understand how long it’s going to take until you’re six months in and you’re still not back.”
Robinson entered Atlanta United’s season coming off arguably one of the pinnacle years of his professional career to date. He grew into a main role for the U.S. men’s national team and scored the game-winning goal in the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup final. For Atlanta United, Robinson has grown into a reliable starter, exceptional defender and team leader. In 2021, he was named a finalist for MLS Defender of the Year. He also scored his first MLS goal in Atlanta United’s 2-1 win over FC Cincinnati, which helped qualify the club for the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Such a high was supposed to carry over into the 2022 season. Robinson was primed to take the next step for his club and lead Atlanta United to a winning season. He was supposed to defend the likes of Harry Kane and Gareth Bale, some of the top goal scorers in the world, as he helped the U.S. make a run in Qatar.
But unfortunately, the test Robinson had to face turned out to be a much different one than he expected.
“For me personally, I’m just trying to keep a positive attitude at all times, especially at this low point,” Robinson says.
Instead, Robinson was sidelined. He missed most of Atlanta United’s season, forced to watch the club that selected him as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft finish a challenging season with a 10-14-10 record in MLS play.
“It’s definitely frustrating because you become so close to these guys,” he says. “Because you see them everyday they’re kind of like your brothers and you want to help your brothers. And when you can’t, it feels like you’re worthless at times, which kind of sucks. Especially because your whole life you created your whole persona around playing a sport that you can’t play. So, it’s tough.”
To get through this difficult time, Robinson relied on his support system. He credits his family and best friends in Atlanta for their support and helping him maintain a positive attitude.
“They kept my morale high and my energy up,” he says. “Definitely my friends and my family, and I’m super grateful for them. It kind of motivates me to come back better because I know how much they sacrificed just to keep me up.”
Although 2022 turned out to be entirely different than what he envisioned, Robinson’s been working to keep a positive attitude. He’s cheering on the U.S. men’s national team as the group looks to advance deeper into the tournament. Now, his focus is on his own recovery. His goal is to return to the team in preseason and get back to playing the sport he loves.
And having seen what Robinson is capable of, in all levels of the sport, there’s a very good chance he’ll return with the same strength, determination and skill that he had before the injury.
“It’s going good,” Robinson says of his recovery. “It’s just one of those things day-by-day, but you can definitely see a progression and success based on the Achilles and how it feels. But yeah, I’m back on the field, kind of touching the ball. Nothing too crazy yet. But I'm definitely feeling strong.”