Robinson the unsung hero in the Dynamo defense
Despite plying his trade in the rough and tumble world of professional soccer, Houston Dynamo defender Eddie Robinson is not easily bothered. After all, Robinson is one of the more imposing central defenders in MLS. Yet as he prepared for last week's U.S. Open Cup match against the Carolina Dynamo, the Greensboro, N.C. native received a phone call from MLS executive Todd Durbin that initially jangled his nerves.
"I thought '[Shoot], did I do something [bad] last week,'" Robinson recalls. "Did I throw an elbow I don't remember?"
Fortunately for Robinson, Durbin wasn't calling to levy any fines. Instead, he was informing the sixth-year veteran that Robinson had made his first ever MLS All-Star team.
Robinson recalled: "I was like 'Whew! Really? Yes!' I was excited, but I was a little bit nervous when it was [Durbin] calling because I was thinking I must have done something really bad."
Robinson could be forgiven for thinking that an All-Star invite wasn't in the cards, because the UNC product has been one of those MLS players who, for a variety of reasons, has never quite gotten his due.
The primary culprit has been a series of injuries that seemed to strike just as Robinson was rounding into form. After breaking into the San Jose Earthquakes' first team in 2002, and earning an invitation to train with the U.S. national team, a slew of hamstring and knee ailments limited Robinson to just 13 regular season games in 2003. Robinson did return in time for the Quakes' run to the MLS championship, but just when it seemed that he had put his injury woes behind him, a ruptured hamstring tendon the following year saw his service limited even more.
In 2005, Robinson finally shed the injury bug, teaming with Danny Califf on a backline that was the league's stingiest. Yet it was Califf who got the lion's share of the credit, continuing a trend that has dogged Robinson since his arrival in MLS. Given that he has shared the field with such stalwarts like Jeff Agoos and Troy Dayak, the fact that the spotlight has shone elsewhere is understandable, and that Califf was the latest teammate to get recognized doesn't bother Robinson one bit.
"[Califf] is a good guy and to see someone that I'm playing with get that recognition, it's great because there are 10 other guys out on the field who helped him." Robinson says. "We look at it as a group thing, but that's the way it goes; that's the politics of professional sports."
Even when some notoriety did come Robinson's way, circumstances beyond his control conspired to rob him of a possible moment in the sun. As the U.S. national team gathered last January for training camp, Robinson was a last-second invitee, but he'd already committed himself to appear at several soccer camps in the San Jose area. Given that other players were unavailable, not to mention that fact that Robinson already had received money for the clinics, he was on the hook, and even a two-day delay wasn't acceptable to manager Bruce Arena. For that reason, the offer went elsewhere.
"I was bummed," Robinson says. "But I'm a big believer in fate, and what is meant to be, will be. For me, maybe [the invitation] wasn't meant to be at that time."
But if last weekend's All-Star game against Chelsea is any indication, perhaps fate has at last decided to smile on Robinson. While D.C. United defenders Bobby Boswell and Facundo Erpen were outstanding throughout, Robinson did his bit as well, especially when an Erpen tackle nutmegged goalkeeper Joe Cannon and looked ticketed for a momentum sapping own goal. But Robinson rode to the rescue, clearing the ball off the line when it seemed certain he only would help the ball into his own net. Robinson also did his bit to lock down the right side of the field, showing the pace and tenacity that have been the hallmarks of his MLS career.
For Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear, the performance was indicative of the kind of play Robinson has delivered for his club all season, one made difficult by transitions both on and off the field. At the beginning of the year, there was the trying move from San Jose to Houston. On the field, injuries to the likes of Adrian Serioux and Ryan Cochrane have further complicated the offseason departure of Califf.
"I think with [Robinson] getting noticed now; I think it just shows you that he's been consistent," Kinnear says. "Whoever has been playing next to him, it hasn't really affected his primary focus in the game, which is just trying to play well in his position. He doesn't worry about 'I'm trying to get used to this guy.' He just plays."
And he plays hard; something Robinson's opponents know all too well. On July 8, a nasty challenge on Chivas USA forward Juan Pablo Garcia nearly caused the game to boil over. It's what prompted Kinnear to note that opposing forwards, "know they are in for a tough night," when they go against the Dynamo defender. But the uncertainty on the backline also has resulted in Robinson developing other aspects of his game, so much so that he is no longer just an enforcer. Robinson notes that with the departure of Califf, he has had to be more of an organizer in the back, as well as more tactically aware.
And if such developments continue, will fate smile on Robinson once again and see him creep into the national team frame? Robinson said that not making the squad, "would be a bummer a little bit, but that's life. And I don't have a bad life. I can't complain."
And if he does, you can bet that he'll be on edge when he gets the news.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .