Welcome to part one of my summer preseason battle preview. Over the next few weeks, I will preview some of the big storylines heading into next season in terms of players trying to win first team spots at their clubs. This summer offers a unique opportunity for our players. While other countries have their players away on World Cup duty, Americans will be readily available for selection by their clubs in the preseason. This may give some of our players a bigger chance to impress than they normally would see. It’s up to them to take advantage when they see those opportunities. The summer months are one of the most fascinating times of the year for me as club jobs are won and lost. First on my list of players to watch this summer is Antonee Robinson.
Prior to this season, Robinson was very much an enigma. While playing with the youth ranks at Everton FC, Robinson had a tough run with injuries. His 2015/16 season was cut short with a knee injury. In 2016/17, Robinson finally saw a healthy campaign and was a key member of Everton’s U-23 team. His strong performance led to a loan move to Championship side Bolton Wanderers this past season. His first season as a professional was very successful. Robinson was a bright spot on a bad team in the English second division, tallying 5 assists in 34 appearances in all competitions.
Robinson displayed the ability to beat defenders 1v1 as well as deliver quality crosses. His speed often made up for his inexperience (he started out as a left winger before moving to fullback) and lack of positional awareness defensively. Although he still has a long way to go defensively, he did dramatically improve on that end throughout the season. No longer a mystery, Robinson’s solid season has put him firmly into the discussion for the left back position with the USMNT.
This summer figures to be an important one for the 20-year-old. With his loan now over, Robinson returns to Everton looking to win a spot in the Premier League. Everton recently hired manager Marco Silva to replace the departed Sam Allardyce. The former right back has bounced around managing several clubs before taking the Everton job. On top of having to impress a new coach, Robinson faces a difficult task of having to show better than the other Left Backs on their roster. Leighton Baines had an injury-riddled campaign last season, but the 33-year-old has experienced over 400 games in the English top flight. While certainly no longer in his prime (he’ll be 34 in December), Baines will be difficult to unseat.
Of course this is England, and they don’t call them “English Weeks” for nothing. With Baines at an advanced age, Marco Silva will need to rotate to keep him fresh and healthy. This is where Robinson will need to prove his worth this summer. Last year Everton featured Cuco Martina while Baines was on the shelf. Martina drew very mixed reviews in his 28 appearances. Brendan Galloway returns to Everton following a poor loan to Sunderland where he made just nine first team appearances in all competitions, none of which came after December. Luke Garbutt is a talented player, but at 25 years old, he’s never really progressed at the club. Last season he failed to make a single first team appearance despite some fans believing he should have been given a look. Robinson will have to beat these players (as well as any others they may bring in during the transfer window) out in camp if he wishes to take the field at Goodison Park next season.
Robinson is well aware of the importance of next season and the challenge that awaits. He recently told the Bolton News:
We’ll see what the new manager has in mind for Antonee Robinson soon enough. With Everton set to start preseason training in early July ahead of the new season kicking off on August 11th, Robinson will hopefully get his opportunity to compete for a first team spot. While we all want him to start every game and gain as much experience as possible, it could also do him some good to serve as an understudy to a player like Baines while making an occasional start during rotations. With Baines aging out and health already a concern, look for Robinson to get some long looks this summer. He may well end up out on loan again, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win a spot in the Everton first team. I will be watching closely to see his progress. Let’s wish him the best of luck as he attempts to add to the number of Americans playing in the Premier League.
Hit the comments section to discuss what you think about Robinson and his chances of making it with his parent club.