"...We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone…"John F Kennedy
So, all this Miles Robinson speculation about one of my favorite domestic soccer players of the past few years has reached a head. Let’s look at this logically. First, I have no way to know any of the actual conversations between the club, player, USMNT, European clubs, etc. I’ve seen the same rumors online and podcasts as many of you although I do have high confidence in one particular source. Miles will be 25 in March, the age typically defenders begin their peak performance years. A late start and lack of academy development via his Syracuse University path isn’t a wrong one per se but does put him behind the progress milestones for his age.
Miles’ gifts, his athleticism and 1v1 defensive skillset are tremendous. His dribbling, passing, positioning has substantially improved. All these skills won’t get much better at this point in MLS. He needs to be challenged daily by faster, bigger, more highly skilled players in Europe in smaller time and space. I suspect he needs 2 years of European development with his outstanding work ethic, to see if he can become a World Top 50, maybe Top 30 Center Back. His physical gifts are elite and can’t be taught. His remaining skills however can be further developed & polished. Will it be difficult at this age? Absolutely. Could he take the easy road & sit tight in a great city with a club like Atlanta United? Of course.
If his goal is to be the best soccer player he can be, be the best he can be for his country (USMNT) and earn the most he can, not just for his benefit but for his entire family’s, then he should do everything possible to move to Europe NOW. MLS players could be at a disadvantage this year having played a full season & playoffs prior to the World Cup in November/December. Playing all year against lesser quality opponents & physically being exhausted doesn’t set him up for his best possible World Cup performance. Two half seasons, with a summer break in between, training and playing with the best players in the world with him in mid-season form by then (especially if the rumored and very fair $8M offer from SC Freiburg is valid who stand as of now to play European football in September) far better prepares him for Qatar. That player would be twice the player the version that stays in MLS this year would be. (If AUFC need a sweeter deal, negotiate a sell on percentage?)
Opponents of this argument say that he risks not getting playing time. Perhaps, but he doesn’t have to start in Europe immediately so long as he gets minutes, continues developing his skillset, and earns a starting spot by August. (See what Busio’s done in Venezia). There are risks with both paths. I’d argue not moving now, losing a year of critical European development means his career trajectory and ultimate peak drops, perhaps significantly. Having the opportunity to get that much better before your first World Cup is one that could catapult his career even further than people realize. European football (Europa or Champions League) and showcasing a better version of himself in Qatar are just two reasons. That would likely translate to higher career earnings, which honestly could be millions if not tens of millions more than that earned via the path to Europe by staying in MLS in 2022. Remember, complacency can stifle careers and converting life’s opportunities into accomplishments are exponential to one’s life.
Look, there are no guarantees. If he’s injured in MLS this year his European hopes are greatly diminished. (I hope his financial advisors have his career insured after this recent run of success). If he has an off year, AUFC homegrown 20-year-old George Campbell could outshine him, perhaps even get sold to Europe before he does. That could leave Miles to a career in MLS like Walker Zimmerman or Aaron Long. Great players, but ones who we’ll always wonder how good they could have been had they been able to try their hand in Europe earlier in their careers. Miles, in my opinion has the chance to be one of if not the best center back in USMNT history.
From an AUFC perspective, their challenges haven’t really been defensive, but with the midfield and attack. They don’t need to replace Miles to win an MLS Cup in my opinion. George Campbell is a Chris Richards’esque replacement who clearly looks eager to showcase his talents. Is he Miles? No, but is better on the ball and solid defensively, passing, and in the air. They do need to replace Anton Walkes, but that’s an easier, less costly ask especially if they play four in the back this year. That’s the other part of this. Keeping Miles runs the risk of limiting George Campbell’s minutes this year. A full season of development at his age could easily fetch AUFC more net money on a transfer than that from Miles a year or two from now. AUFC’s long term reputation about managing their talent and helping players’ careers absolutely increases the desire for top young players to come here. That goodwill could be damaged if they are in any way holding a move back for Miles or George’s development as a result. Even as a diehard fan of the club, my respect for them would be slightly lowered.
Like any soccer fan, you want to see good, talented and driven young men succeed and make the most of their finite opportunities. I’m sure Miles has wondered if he hadn’t run sprints after the USMNT vs Cuba friendly that night in October 2019 in DC, and doesn’t injure his hamstring, does AUFC win their Conference Final match? Probably, and they likely win MLS Cup in 2019, a year he earned his first MLS Best XI. Its not a stretch to say he likely would have been sold to Europe then at 22. Now 2 years older and the number of peak development years left in his career rapidly declining, you must ask yourself is this going to be another missed opportunity to springboard what we all hope could be an unforgettable career?
Miles always says, "Dream Big". What’s the point of dreaming big if you can’t find ways to take advantage of the opportunities right in front of you? I speak for a lot of my fellow USMNT & AUFC fans and supporters. We desperately want to see this outstanding young man do a lot more amazing things on the pitch for years to come. Like a parent begrudgingly sending your child away to college, its hard; but you know it’s in their best interest. Whichever path Miles takes, we will always be a supporter of his. Here’s to hoping the ultimate ceiling for him is extremely high!