FC Cincinnati general manager Chris Albright has bolstered the back line of the already stout Orange and Blue defense by signing what some called the crown jewel of Major League Soccer free agents this offseason and one of the most successful MLS-made players in league history.
Miles Robinson, a center back who has played for Atlanta United FC since being drafted there in 2017, has signed a contract with FCC through the 2024 season with a club option for the 2025 season. The acquisition bolsters FCC’s roster with another impact performer who would be not only an opening day starter, but an MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield altering type addition.
Robinson, 26, was the first-ever MLS SuperDraft pick by The Five Stripes in 2017, selected second overall after he signed a Generation adidas deal out of Syracuse University. In seven seasons in Atlanta, Robinson made 150 appearances across all competitions, the third most in club history, winning the 2018 MLS Cup, the 2019 U.S. Open Cup, and the 2019 Campeones Cup.
“We are proud that Miles chose to continue his career in Cincinnati,” said Albright in a press release. “He is a defender with an elite skillset who already has an incredible amount of MLS and international experience. His personality and character are an immediate addition to our locker room and we’re thrilled to welcome him to FC Cincinnati.”
The staunch defender, 2021 MLS All-Star and two-time MLS Best XI recipient was recently named the top MLS free agent by The Athletic's Tom Bogert. Robinson represents a major upgrade to any roster, but will now augment the FCC defense that already finished tied for second in the Eastern Conference in goals conceded last season.
The link to Cincinnati was not always clear. The Orange and Blue splashed when Robinson opened the free agency window by hosting him on a visit in the Queen City. The meeting, which included a private tour of Mercy Health Training Center and TQL Stadium with "Welcome to Cincinnati" emblazoned on the video board, publicly placed The Orange and Blue as favorites for the defender's services.
Robinson's other visits, if he made any, were private.
Interest from PSV Eindhoven (who currently lead the Dutch Eredivisie) surrounded him in addition to reported rumors out of Turkey from Trabzonspor of the Süper Lig popping up late in the process. It was not the first time Robinson had been linked to a European move. As a trusted member of the United States Men’s National Team, many speculated that his next move would be overseas. In October 2023, he was rumored to have drawn interest from Bundesliga side VfL Wolfsburg and RCD Mallorca of Spain's La Liga. As a hot commodity in the international market, Robinson joining The Orange and Blue is a significant statement.
“I’m very excited to be signing for FC Cincinnati,” said Robinson. “This is an amazing organization from top to bottom, and I will do everything in my power to win more trophies for the passionate fans and outstanding people of this city. I’m ecstatic to play my first home game at TQL Stadium.”
Robinson has made 27 appearances with USMNT, leading them to a 2021 Gold Cup crown by scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over Mexico in the final, and playing a key role in winning the 2023 Concacaf Nations League title. He was poised to be the starting center back for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, but was derailed due to a left Achilles tendon injury that prevented him from participating.
Now fully healthy, Robinson is looking to retake his spot on the back line for the national team in the prestigious Copa America tournament this summer after making seven appearances with the USMNT in 2023.
Going into the offseason, center back was a need for the 2023 Supporters’ Shield winners. The depth of the position was challenged in the postseason with injuries and suspensions, leaving players unavailable. It was further complicated by Yerson Mosquera returning to Premier League side Wolves after his loan ended, leaving an opening in FCC’s back line for an impact player. That question has now been solved to the extent that it can be.
The emergence of Ian Murphy as a reliable starting center back has eased any concern over the position's depth in 2024. Also, the acquisition of Kipp Keller in the offseason from Austin FC, in addition to having MLS Defender of the Year Matt Miazga and Nick Hagglund, who’s recovering from hamstring surgery, raises the roster depth. With Robinson now in the fold, the back line stands as potentially the best collection of American defenders in the league.
It's not immediately clear how head coach Pat Noonan will choose to utilize Robinson. Still, with the versatility the newest Gary provides and all the options previously listed on the back line, FCC will be able to put him, Miazga, Hagglund and Murphy in optimal positions to succeed.
Robinson's game is best known for his physicality, ability to close out on attackers, and one-on-one defending. At 6'2", very few move with the pace he does while remaining an imposing figure.
"(He’s) the best one-on-one defender I've ever played with," former Atlanta United FC teammate Michael Parkhurst said of Robinson in 2019 on MLSSoccer.com.
"There's Miles and then there's everybody else,” Parkhurst added to The Athletic in 2022.
Parkhurst, the 2005 MLS Rookie of the Year, 2007 MLS Defender of the Year and six-time MLS All-Star, effectively lost his starting role with Atlanta to Robinson, but it didn't sour on the star. He has advocated for Robinson, regularly calling him the 'best American defender in soccer.'
"That's number one. And I'm not kidding, I'm not saying this because he was my former teammate. Miles is the best U.S. center back. For sure. There's no doubt about it," Parkhurst told The Athletic's Felipe Cardenas in 2022.
With Atlanta, Robinson was utilized in multiple ways on the back line. Most often on the right side in a four-man back line, he would play the right-center back position alongside Peruvian Luis Abram on his left. When Atlanta would shift to a three center back set in a five-man defensive group (not totally dissimilar to FCC's), Robinson would man the middle of the trio.
On the ball, Robinson has seen marked improvement in his game during his stint with Atlanta. When he was drafted in 2017, long-range passes, dribbling and direct play were considered areas of his game to grow in, and over the course of seven seasons, he has developed into a star player in the league. In 2023, Robinson led Atlanta defenders with 73 accurate long-ball passes, and completed the second-most passes behind only Thiago Almada. Robinson also had the highest successful dribble percentage among defenders at 83.3 percent.
Robinson’s addition to FC Cincinnati marks the signing of the top free agent in the 2024 class and solidifies a place of need on the pitch for The Orange and Blue. The center back could spend significant time away from FCC this season with the national team, but his signing sends a clear message to the soccer landscape: with Noonan and Albright at the helm, Cincinnati is a destination for top talent.