Atlanta United were dealt a huge blow this week when it was announced that Miles Robinson was forced to withdraw from international duty with the USMNT after sustaining a hamstring injury. While the official timetable for his recovery hasn’t been revealed by the club, it’s believed that his status is “week-to-week”. It’s safe to say at this point that Frank de Boer will be without the player who he’s started in the most games this season.
The hole left by Robinson is quite a gaping one that will cause some headaches for De Boer. There are several options on how to replace him. The most obvious one is to bring in Michael Parkhurst or Florentin Pogba in while shifting Leandro Gonzalez Pirez to the central center back position in the back 3/5 that Atlanta has deployed Robinson in for the majority of the season.
The problem with this solution is that Miles was the entire reason this system was possible. His athletic ability to track down any attacker was the perfect safety blanket for the Five Stripes’ overly aggressive attacking style. No one has Robinson’s skill set to replicate that role he provided.
This is a problem.
Another possibility would be to shift to a traditional back four with two natural center backs and two natural fullbacks. The issue with this is that Atlanta United don’t have any left backs to use. Justin Meram has played left wing back for a good portion of the season. But playing wing back and playing fullback are completely different roles. Asking a natural attacker like Meram to play a role with limited freedom to venture forward and a ton of defensive responsibility, in the playoffs no less, would be quite risky.
Both Pogba and Parkhurst are capable of playing the position but neither are ideal solutions as both are older, lack pace and likely can’t last the full 90 (or 120) minutes.
Another issue that arises if you choose this path is that of Julian Gressel’s role. Does he play right back with Franco Escobar playing as a center back? Does he get moved to the right wing where he won’t have nearly as much space and freedom as he does as a wingback?
These are more problems.
Then there’s the matter of Pity Martinez and if he’ll even start.
For as deep as Atlanta United’s roster is this season, the pieces don’t exactly fit every slot. Robinson’s absence will cause some formation issues. The hope is that the team can overcome those for the first playoff game or two and he’ll return for the more difficult ones, if they get that far.
For now, these are the issues that face Frank de Boer as he enters his first foray into the MLS postseason. Let us know in the comments how you’d like to see him handle them.