The injury problem has never been this way for the U.S. men’s national team during the 2022 World Cup cycle, so the team’s anticipation in full force in November always seemed like a real dream. Still, the recent rush of injury problems is a bit out of control, even by American standards, and with the first hit in Qatar in just over six months, some of the hypothetical census scenarios are getting a little more realistic.
After injuries interrupted by club campaigns by Weston McKennie, Gia Reyne, Sergiño Dest and Chris Richards, what appears to be a more significant, long-term blow. Miles Robinson, the Atlanta United captain and center-back who played a regular role in the heart of the American defense, crumpled onto the turf of Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday night, following a non-contact injury to left Achilles. Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda feared the worst before magnetic resonance imaging, and Robinson’s immediate reaction spoke volumes as he angrily hit the ground before being pulled out. Those assumptions were confirmed on Monday by Atlanta announcing a torn Achilles, and Robinson’s hopes of going to the World Cup actually toasted. Even the most optimistic recovery deadlines would cast great doubt on whether they will be in World Cup form in mid-November.
Robinson, 25, was one of USMNT’s most trusted and consistent players in qualifying, starting 11 of 14 games at the Concacaf Octagonal. Prior to that, he helped the U.S. win the Concacaf Gold Cup, scoring an overtime goal that brought victory over Mexico in the final. In an ecosystem where change and rotation are often constant, Robinson was one of the more reliable people when it comes to filling out a team list. Now a blockade for Qatar is likely all but not, and the US is facing a key question that needs to be answered.
“Just heartbreaking,” said Atlanta teammate and U.S. defender Brooks Lennon after Saturday’s 4-1 win over Chicago. “In the first half we were very shaken as a team. It took us 15 to 20 minutes to regroup somehow. I don’t know if you can tell when he fell, we lost possession of the ball. I think we were all kind of stunned. We pray for him. We wish him a speedy recovery. “
If Robinson wasn’t a safe starter for the U.S., he was terribly close, and an extended absence opens up opportunities elsewhere for a presumed spot alongside Walker Zimmerman in the U.S. four-man defense (and if the U.S. acted from the back line with three players, Robinson would well bet to be a left starter). The U.S. only has a couple of campsites ahead of the World Cup, so the chances of climbing the depth ladder are at their peak.
According to Washington Post, Cameron Carter-Vickers, a 24-year-old center-back who has shown up at Celtic this season (31 starts on loan from Tottenham for first-placed Scotland) will be invited to an upcoming camp later this month – something planned before Robinson’s injury. Carter-Vickers was not one of 38 players addressed by coach Gregg Berhalter in qualifying, and last appeared in an American game in June 2019. He was more of a regular player in Dave Sarachan’s 2018 bridge season, but fought for consistency at the club. level. It is one new face to be seen in the friendly matches on 1 and 5 June against Morocco and Uruguay for the World Cup, and the group matches of the Concacaf League of Nations on 10 and 14 June against Grenada and El Salvador.
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In addition, there is a possibility that Aaron Long will once again take on a more prominent role. Ironically, it was Long’s Achilles tear in May 2021 that may have helped accelerate Robinson’s rise to the national team by creating a gap in position, but the New York Red Bulls captain returned and even played a role at the end of U.S. qualifiers after being integrated into training dating back to from November.
The wild card in all of this is John Brooks, a former shoo-in who was unlucky to appear in the first window of World Cup qualifiers, played poorly and has not been called up since. His contract with Wolfsburg has expired after the end of the Bundesliga season and he will have to sort out his club future, but only from the point of view of potential and vice versa, it is hard to dispute that he is given a chance to return. At his best, he is a left-back with a left foot with sharpness in the air and experience at the World Cup. No other player in the American pool can claim that.
If Richards, who can also benefit from extra minutes to catch up, can’t go to the upcoming camp as he recovers from a thigh injury, people like Mark McKenzie and Eric Palmer-Brown could play for bigger roles in the US as well. They were both on the periphery of qualifying, with McKenzie, 23, starting two games and Palmer-Brown, 25, playing 10 minutes out of position at the Aztecs in March to help conclude a valuable point against Mexico.
On the other hand, if a quick recovery is not planned, it would be a great opportunity for Robinson, and in many ways. There is an immediate and obvious downside to missing the World Cup. But there is also something that playing in the World Cup could turn into for him. Perform well in Qatar, and multimillion-dollar offers could come from abroad for a player who has only played in the country as a professional. His contract runs until the MLS season of 2023, making next winter an ideal period to secure transfers.
“I really think Miles could play in any league in the world,” former Atlanta and US defender Michael Parkhurst told ESPN last month. “I don’t think he’s the final product, there are little things he needs to work on and improve on, but I’ve never played with someone who is a better defender, I’ve never seen a better one-on-one defender.”
He is still young, and the 2022 World Cup is not the end of everything. But for someone so confident a fall in such a strange and abrupt way is a stark reminder that no one’s place on the American team has been given. Unfortunately, this is not a reminder that those in charge of making the list really need it.
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