Mailbag: The Antonee Robinson Transfer Saga, MLS CBA and More

What to make of Antonee Robinson's transfer fail, the MLS CBA extension and more of your questions answered about all topics across the beautiful game.
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There lots to talk about in the new Mailbag, and thanks as always for your questions. Let’s dive in!

Grant, can you explain the Antonee Robinson AC Milan transfer? How did this happen? - @sdelaes

Could England come back into play for Antonee Robinson, and should Gregg Berhalter cap-tie him in the next round of League of Nations matches? If he chooses England, should Berhalter be criticized for not bringing him in for a cap-tying match? - @Aidansheart

What a saga. It seemed like one of the most unlikely transfers of a USMNT player ever to a legendary club: 22-year-old left back Antonee Robinson going in a €10 million ($11.1 million) transfer from second-tier English club Wigan Athletic to seven-time European champion AC Milan. Robinson even had a physical in Italy on Friday, only for news to break that the deal had broken down. Wigan confirmed the news Friday afternoon, saying further medical tests with the Italian authorities were required but couldn’t be completed until after Italy’s transfer deadline.

That’s a crushing blow personally for Robinson, who will have to find a way to deal with the disappointment and not let it affect his play for a Wigan team that’s in danger of being relegated to the third tier. But one thing Robinson’s agent will have to tell him is: Dude, AC Milan was willing to pay eight figures for you!

Before the deal broke down, I connected with Dan Altman, the creator of smarterscout.com, a free online scouting platform using advanced analytics, about whether Robinson really was in a position to go from the English second tier to Milan. 

“Robinson [would have been] an interesting signing for Milan to be sure,” Altman wrote back. “They let Ricardo Rodríguez go to PSV, likely so he could get games and increase his value before they sold him in the summer (he's on a 2021 contract). So there was room for a new left back.

“Our young prospects algorithm, which is calibrated to about a decade of debuts in Europe's top five leagues, flagged Robinson as the kind of player who could go on to star at a higher level,” he continued. “His ball retention was pretty weak when he started playing in the Championship, but it's been improving steadily. And this season his stats—adjusted to a Serie A standard—are actually pretty good. He's a super-aggressive defender with decent overall quality on both sides of the ball, but he probably needs to get better in duels, especially since he likes to take the ball forward himself.

“Robinson's style is a lot like Danny Rose's, and also a bit like Theo Hernández's. Hernández gets forward more and isn't quite as aggressive as a defender, but he does like to dribble a lot."

Here's a comparison, with all three players rated at a Serie A standard:

How Antonee Robinson compares to Danny Rose and Theo Hernandez

Robinson, who has dual citizenship in England and the U.S., has made seven appearances for the U.S. senior team, most recently against Jamaica last June. But none of those appearances have been in an official game, so he is not yet cap-tied to the U.S. The next opportunity for that would be in early June in the Nations League semifinals. He would seem to be a likely call-up for March games in Europe, but it remains to be seen if England might enter the fray now that he has drawn interest from a club like Milan.

MLSPA gonna get that money? @dTr_215

So the latest news on labor talks between the MLSPA and the league is that they mutually announced that they have extended the CBA expiration date from Friday to Feb. 7. Talks have proceeded this week in Washington, D.C., and the tone from both sides so far has been more positive than the situation five years ago. 

That could always change, though. The players are prioritizing free agency inside the league again, hoping to expand that to more players, while also trying to remove targeted allocation money and just make that part of a team’s general salary budget. 

What happens if they don’t reach a deal by Feb. 7? My guess is the deadline would be extended. The MLS season starts Feb. 29, but the Concacaf Champions League begins on Feb. 18, which could be the first test of whether the players might have a work stoppage.

What is it going to take for Concacaf to be held accountable for growing women’s soccer? They have the world champions in their house and a built viewership and they go out of their way to make it tank. How much influence does U.S. Soccer really have? Is it on them too? @Ponderer19

It’s extremely disappointing that Concacaf willingly chose to harm the visibility of its women’s Olympic qualifying tournament in order to use it as a bargaining chip to sell as part of a broadcast rights package for other men’s Concacaf properties. 

By not reaching a deal with Fox Sports until the day before the tournament started, Concacaf prevented Fox from doing any sort of advance promotion for its broadcasts and from clearing airtime on its most prominent channels for showing the games of the U.S. and other teams. I would also question Concacaf's choice of Houston and Edinburg, Texas, for the group-stage games, which have drawn almost no fans—a real shame since Canada’s Christine Sinclair broke the all-time international goal-scoring record in Edinburg.

If U.S. Soccer can draw good crowds for meaningless USWNT games with proper marketing and advance promotion, then Concacaf can do a lot better for U.S. games that actually matter. Am I glad that we in the U.S. will be able to see men’s Olympic qualifying and CCL and the Gold Cups on a mainstream platform? Sure. But hurting the women’s game wasn’t worth it. And while I know that Concacaf has recently put out a plan to grow women’s soccer in the region, which deserves respect, they went and undercut that message with how they handled the broadcasts for this women’s Olympic qualifying tournament.

Most likely underdog to win title in respected league: Lazio, Inter, Leipzig, Dortmund, Mönchengladbach? Do you think any of them overtake Juve/Bayern? @TheAhmedAli2

First off, I think Juventus is going to win the title in Italy. So let’s look at Germany. It’s a four-team race right now as Bayern tries to win its seventh straight league title. 

Dortmund is insanely fun to watch, but the defense just isn’t good enough to win the league. Gladbach deserves a ton of credit for even being in the conversation, but I think they’ll fall off the pace. That leaves Leipzig, which is coming off a stinker in a 2-0 loss at Eintracht Frankfurt, but the combination of Julian Nagelsmann at the helm, Timo Werner and Marcel Sabitzer banging in goals and a real sense of purpose and unity has me thinking Leipzig is the most likely “surprise” winner.

Player you have interviewed who would be the best leader of their country? @acreach

What a great question. Let me say first that when it comes down to it, I don’t think any athlete would be the very best choice to lead a nation. But a few that I have interviewed come to mind if we’re going to entertain the topic. 

Vincent Kompany is one of the best leaders and speakers I have ever interviewed, and he has a real sense of the collective. (His father actually is an elected politician.) Didier Drogba was one of the main unifying figures in Ivory Coast when it was on the brink of a civil war. And Megan Rapinoe could certainly be a politician if she ever wants to do that. Her ability to tailor her speaking message to different audiences and situations is extremely impressive.

When will MLS loosen up the jersey designs? I'm so tired of cookie-cutter designs where only the colors change and all-white secondary combinations. - @shardgrove

Yeah, I can’t tell you how frustrating it is that Adidas (which has an exclusive MLS contract) decides every year to limit its creativity when it doesn’t need to happen that way. The biggest case in point this season is with the cookie-cutter three stripes over the shoulder for so many of the team shirts. Honestly, this is one of the most frustrating aspects of MLS’s single-entity system, and the fans deserve better.

We know some of the negatives about what's been going on with U.S. Soccer this past year or so, but what are the three most encouraging developments that you've seen? (Thinking more structural/off-the-field in particular.) - @orangechair

1. Hiring Kate Markgraf as the head of women’s soccer for the federation. She has made good hires so far (Vlatko Andonovski, Laura Harvey), and whenever Markgraf talks about her plans—which include reshaping the whole development pathway on the women’s side—it’s hard not to be encouraged.

2. The recent emphasis on hiring a new CEO from outside the federation. The process of hiring a replacement for Dan Flynn as the CEO—the federation’s most important day-to-day job—has taken far too long. But the word lately is that the final candidates are coming from outside the federation, which is essential in my opinion.

3. The USWNT. They just keep winning. It doesn’t matter if they’re engaged in a gender-discrimination lawsuit against the federation. It doesn’t matter that so many observers say the rest of the world is catching up. They’re the two-time defending World Cup champions and the great pride of American soccer.

Who will lead the USWNT and MNT in goals in 2020? - @thew1242

WNT: Carli Lloyd. She’s getting a big head start on Alex Morgan, who’s out while pregnant, plus Lloyd gets several opportunities for some multiple-goal games in the Concacaf qualifying tournament.

MNT: Christian Pulisic. I think he’ll get his goal-scoring going again for the national team a year after Gyasi Zardes led the MNT in goals.

What's Clint Dempsey doing these days? @soccertraining

He’s living in rural North Carolina with his family, which includes four children. It’s kind of interesting to me that two U.S. soccer legends (Dempsey and Hope Solo) both live in rural North Carolina.

Favorite league to watch as a fan and not a pundit/journo? @clintonTlindsey

It’s pretty hard for me to separate the fan from the journalist, but if I had to pick I would say the Premier League is the most entertaining league that I watch. But I watch plenty of other leagues too, and I think the MLS playoffs have become a lot of fun for anyone who likes the sport.

Any reason to be excited, or at least keep tabs on, Giuseppe Rossi finally joining MLS?@MBarresi_media

I’d love to see Rossi playing again as reports have come out that he’s training with Real Salt Lake. He has missed an entire season of playing, but man, he was good when he was healthy in Europe. Plus he’s a good guy, and you want to see good guys continue their playing careers as long as possible.