NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Antonee Robinson is trying to prove he can learn on the job.
Brazil quickly tested the 21-year-old left back last week in just his third U.S. game, with winger Douglas Costa blowing past Robinson to deliver the cross that led to the opening goal in Brazil’s dominating win. Though deflated by the setback, Robinson says he made tactical changes during the game that helped avoid a repeat of the early goal.
Going into Tuesday night’s friendly against Mexico, Robinson hopes to continue showing improvement.
“When you struggle like that, you want to turn it around and take what you’ve learned to the next game,” Robinson said Monday. “It’s all about growing each time.”
The U.S. is desperate for long-term solution to the troubled left back position.
During last year’s failed World Cup qualifying bid, the American team went back to using DaMarcus Beasley, then 35, at that position. Robinson is among a slew of young players being given opportunities to develop for the national team as it prepares for its next World Cup qualifying cycle.
Robinson is the son of an American father and British mother who grew up in Liverpool and is currently on loan from Everton to second-tier Wigan. Playing against the likes of Brazil’s Costa is one of the reasons Robinson is keen to get playing time for the U.S.
“He’s obviously a Champions League-quality player,” Robinson said of Costa, who plays for Juventus in Italy. “I’m not playing against people like him in-and-out every week, but that’s a level that I want to get to.”
A major part of alleviating the pressure on defenders will be for the young squad to possess the ball more than it did against Brazil and to do better with its attacking opportunities, interim U.S. coach Dave Sarachan said. The coach also plans to make several changes — up to six — to the starting 11 against Mexico.
“They’re not changes because of disappointing play,” Sarachan said. “Coming into these games, the idea was to try to offer opportunities to a number of guys.”
Midfielder Tyler Adams said defenders like Robinson, Shaq Moore and DeAndre Yedlin have the ability to cause problems on the attacking end by getting down the sidelines and making crosses into the box. The rest of the Americans have to be careful not to leave their own goal exposed.
“That comes with timing, obviously a little more chemistry,” Adams said. “As we get to know each other more, I think that will come.”
Sarachan said a larger goal beyond tactics and systems is “getting our identity back.”
“In terms of each and every time we step on the field, what’s a U.S. team going to look like?” he said. “It’s going to look like a team that’s going to compete, that’s aggressive, that’s not afraid.”
That’s a message his players appear to be taking the heart. Midfielder Wil Trapp, who has served as captain despite playing just seven games for the national team, said the team identity will be forged through “growing through adverse situations” like the game against Brazil or the coming match against Mexico at Nissan Stadium, home to the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.
“Most of us we haven’t played in these games before at the full national team level,” he said. “It’s a chemistry thing.”
For Robinson, personal growth and team cohesion are key goals, though it doesn’t end there.
“There comes a point where we’ll be playing in competitions where it’s not about learning anymore, it’s about winning,” he said. “But before I get to that point I just want to enjoy every game I play and play as many games as I can for the national team.”
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