Robinson looking forward to facing Jamaica after his big World Cup qualifying start
At the individual level, Antonee Robinson was one of the biggest success stories for the U.S. team in the September window. Now the Fulham left back looks to continue his top form against Jamaica on Thursday in Austin. ASN's Brian Sciaretta reports on the team's preparation for the game with a look at the English-born American fullback.
October 06, 2021
THE SEPTEMBER WORLD CUP qualifiers were mixed for the United States with two draws followed by a stunning second half in a big win over Honduras. It was also an important window that saw several players improve their status on the team. In that regard, one of the biggest winners from that camp was Antonee Robinson who put in a series of strong performances at left back.
Robinson, 24, has been with the U.S. national team since 2018 when he was first called up by interim manager Dave Sarachan. The September window, however, seemed to mark a turning point for the English-born American where it looked like he truly fit into the team’s style and approach.
“Going back to the start, especially when I started working with Gregg - for me, it definitely felt like it was taking a while to get used to the system and the roles and responsibilities I had in this team compared to what club level and the different tactics and things,” Robinson said. “But games come and you get used to playing with the players that I've been playing with for a while now. It gets a lot easier understanding what you need to do, and it felt like it really settled in last camp with some of my responsibilities on the pitch. Just being confident and try to enjoy, enjoy playing football and playing for my country, which replicated in good performances.”
“Obviously there's been about some tough times personally with the team and good times, but definitely it wasn't just a straight road of coming in and being a guaranteed starter - which pretty sure there's not many people who have a guaranteed place on our team,” he added. “We've all got to work hard, and we all know that we're all going to be needed at different points for different things.”
For Robinson, there is also a change in mentality at the club level that has affected his play with the national team – for the better. While Fulham was relegated last season, the team has found itself pushing to be in the mix for promotion back to the Premier League next season.
Prior to this season, Robinson had been in relegation battles in every season of his pro career – first in the Championship with Bolton in 2017/18 followed by two more seasons in the second tier with Wigan. Last season was his first in the Premier League but Fulham was doomed by a slow start.
Now in 2021/22 with Fulham, Robinson is with a team that expects to win most of their games and be among the best teams in the league. Offensively, Robinson is now on the front foot more while not being pinned back defensively as much. This mental approach mirrors what the U.S. team faces in CONCACAF competitions where wins are expected.
“It is definitely a shift in mentality,” Robinson explained. “The first couple of years of my career, I've been in teams that have been them relegation fights. Now that we're back in the Championship, the expectations on us is to go straight back up… That’s a nice feeling going into a game, feeling that everyone's confident that we can win. It's similar to here when we come to the states, it's we're expected to qualify. We expect it to be one of the better teams. At the same time, I feel like that they're the games that motivate all the other teams…That just makes it so that not every game is going to be an easy game like you'd hope.”
Thursday’s game against Jamaica will be an important one for the U.S. team to create momentum ahead of a tough trip to Panama followed by a home match against Costa Rica to conclude the window. In the last window, the U.S. team was slow to start couldn’t capitalize on its many chances. It was actually Robinson who started the team’s ferocious comeback in Honduras with his first national team goal – followed by a backflip celebration.
Looking back, Robinson doesn’t think the U.S. team got off to a bad start having earned four points on the road and not having lost. Still, he admits it was a learning process for the team – citing the 16 different U.S. players who made their World Cup qualifying debut in those three games.
In the early stages of this camp, Robinson senses that the team feels more prepared now knowing what the game are like.
“I think the focus was there from everyone,” Robinson said comparing the last window to this. “Obviously, we were coming off the back of a very good summer being successful in two tournaments, so everyone's confidence was really high, and maybe that was a factor…. The amount of people like me who made their qualifying debuts last camp - it just shows that it’s an experience that you have to kind of go through it, sort of see the expectations, what it will be like. You need to realize this it is going to be tough, but you also have to have been through the games to realize how tough it's going to be. And now we've got a lot of players who've been through that scene that it's not just going to be an easy ride. Starting out [this camp], our expectations probably a lot more consistent. We know what we need to get out of each game.”
In putting that mentality to the test, everyone is expecting Jamaica to be a tough test. The "Reggae Boyz" have begun the Octagonal qualifying round poorly with just one point from three games (a 2-1 away loss to Mexico, a 3-0 home loss to Costa Rica, and a 1-1 away draw to Costa Rica).
Like the U.S. team without Gio Reyna and Christian Pulisic, Jamaica will be without its top players in West Ham’s Michail Antonio and Aston Villa’s Leon Bailey. Still the team’s current roster consists of several players with impressive resumes, mostly in England. One of them is forward Bobby Decordova-Reid who is a teammate of Robinson at Fulham.
“But it's ultimately going to come down to how they've set up as a team against how we set up as a team and not just individual players,” Robinson said of the game. “As long as we get ourselves right and our strategy to how we're going to nullify him and beat them as a team. I don't see it as an issue.”
“In terms of tactically, Gregg wanted to be a bit more direct this camp,” he continued. “It's just about creating chances and being really aggressive and on the front foot trying to put the other teams on the back foot so that we can put the pressure on them and we can try and convert our chances to win games.”