On Thursday afternoon, Inter Miami CF selected Robbie Robinson No. 1 in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft, making the 21-year-old forward the team’s first-ever pick.
Almost immediately, things got a little weird.
“I mean, David Beckham FaceTimed me right after I got picked,” he said. “Complete surprise. I had no idea.”
Robinson watched the SuperDraft livestream from a room at Clemson University, where he scored 18 goals and posted nine assists during his MAC Hermann Trophy-winning 2019 season. He was surrounded by his family, girlfriend, teammates, coach, agent and many more.
“Pretty much everyone,” he said. “A lot of people.”
While Robinson didn’t know he was going to be taken first until Inter Miami sporting director Paul McDonough announced his name, he was confident he would go first or second due to positive pre-draft conversations with McDonough and Nashville SC general manager Mike Jacobs. The Beckham thing, though? That was the shock of an already surreal day.
“It was crazy,” Robinson said of getting a call from Inter Miami’s minority owner and perfectly coiffed legend. “It’s a guy I’ve watched my whole life growing up. For him and them to have faith in me as a player means so much, and it gives me more confidence.”
Though Robinson hasn’t spent much time in Miami, he did check out the team’s “top, top class” training facility. He was also recently in Orlando preparing for preseason with former United States men’s national team player Eddie Johnson. They trained in both the tactical and technical parts of the game: passing drills, shooting, turning with the ball into space and off-the-ball movement. In other words, the little details it takes to succeed at the next level.
When it comes to confidence about his MLS career, the Camden, South Carolina native doesn’t remember a moment when he realized he was good enough to go pro. That’s just always been a fact, in his mind, the only answer he’d ever give when asked, “What are you going to do when you grow up?”
“I think my whole life from when I was 6 or 7, I felt this is what I want to do,” Robinson said. “This is what I love to do. I can’t see myself doing anything else. Day-by-day, I’d just be outside with a ball. Not because it was what I needed to do to be picked as a professional, but because that was what made me the most happy. When I’m smiling the most, when I’m enjoying [life] the most is when I’m on the field with the ball. That’s not something you can learn.”
He always has been playing, training and feeding his soccer obsession. As a teenager, Robinson played in a deeper role as an attacking midfielder able to roam and find space. In that position, he developed the technical skills he still leans on despite moving to center-forward after a summer in which a growth spurt of four or five inches took him up to his 6-foot-2 frame.
Robinson patterned his game after individual players, taking a bit from Cristiano Ronaldo when he was at Manchester United, a little from Ajax-era Zlatan Ibrahimovic who loved to run at defenders, a bit of Philippe Coutinho given his famously quick release when shooting.
“People ask me if I have a favorite team,” he said. “No. I have favorite players that I like to watch and see what they do.” He has even taken some inspiration from Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe. “I’ve definitely taken some of his moves and put my own little spin on them,” Robinson said.
The Inter Miami draftee loves watching soccer, too. An early Major League Soccer memory comes from the U.S. Open Cup when he’d go watch the nearby Charleston Battery host MLS teams. “I remember going in the hotel afterwards, chasing down these players for their autographs,” he said.
Freddy Adu was one signature he sought; now, Robinson is a fellow No. 1 pick. Funny how that worked out.
So what is he going to do with his first paycheck? Though some might splurge or indulge, Robinson has more low-key aspirations: “I kind of want a new backpack, so I might look into that” before noting his parents are encouraging him to put some of it away.
While the first pick of an expansion team perhaps isn’t as defining a moment as it was in the league’s earlier days, Robinson’s profile is only going to grow. Now he has become the hero, with children sure to chase him for an autograph and ask him how to make it as a pro instead.
“What advice do I give to kids?” he asked rhetorically, already wonderfully as ease with the “giving kids advice” stage of his nascent career. “I tell them you need to get your relationship with the ball. You need to be around the ball at all times. You need to be outside. It doesn’t matter if you’re with other people. If you have that love for the game, you can be by yourself.”
Those kids can look at the guy answering them and know it worked for him. Chances are, he’ll get out on the grass with them too. It’s where he belongs, where life makes the most sense.
“I’m the kind of person at the end of the day I want to get out on the field,” Robinson said. “All this, it’s great and I’m enjoying every single second of it and I can’t wait to meet all the fans and everything, but my love is being on the pitch. I can’t wait until preseason starts. I’m counting down the days.”