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'The player of the year!' - Gold Cup winner caps Robinson's rapid rise from potential star to USMNT hero

12:00 PM EDT 8/3/21
Robinson USMNT Gold Cup Mexico 2021
The Atlanta United defender was the team's ironman and clutch goalscorer as they stunned Mexico in the tournament finale on Sunday

By the time the final whistle blew to conclude the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Miles Robinson had played every single second of the U.S. men's national team's tournament run.

That's 570 minutes crammed into a three-week period: six full games with an extra 30 minutes tacked on for good measure. But it was the last five of those 570 minutes that saw Robinson go from exciting up-and-comer to genuine star.

In those last few minutes, Robinson sealed his place as a USMNT hero.

Robinson's 117th-minute goal in Sunday's Gold Cup final proved to be the tournament-deciding moment, sealing the USMNT's 1-0 win over their arch-rival.

It was a win that was as improbable as it was dramatic, as a young U.S. squad stood toe-to-toe with many of El Tri's best and, somehow, emerged with a trophy.

They'll have the Atlanta United defender as the one to thank, not just for his play in the final but for everything he did in the weeks leading up to it.

If you were to pick a big winner from this summer's tournament, Robinson would be it, fittingly enough, as he proved the team's match-winner at the moment that mattered most.

"I don't really know what happened. It's still awesome, crazy," he told Fox Sports moments after scoring. "It's some crazy emotions. I'm happy we got the W. That's all I can say.

"We were focusing a lot on set pieces. I know if I get a half-step, I can finish one, and Kellyn (Acosta) put a perfect ball in, so I just had to finish it."

Robinson's rise began long before Sunday's winner, though.

Having missed out on being a key part of Olympic qualifiers due to Atlanta's decision not to release him, the 24-year-old centerback went into this Gold Cup with something to prove.

With John Brooks anchored into one central spot in the USMNT's top defense, the other spot remains up for grabs, with the likes of Mark McKenzie, Walker Zimmerman, Matt Miazga, Chris Richards and Aaron Long all very much in the mix ahead of World Cup qualifiers.

That spot may just now be Robinson's after he served as a constant in the tournament's best defense. The U.S. conceded just once in six games – and even that was a penalty – as Robinson proved one of the Gold Cup's best players.

His case for a regular starting spot was only made stronger throughout Sunday's finale, as he didn't put a foot wrong against a strong Mexico attack. And then, just moments away from penalties, he dusted Edson Alvarez to head home the tournament winner.

"This is the player of the year, bro!" midfielder Sebastian Lletget enthused as he interrupted Robinson's postgame availability before giving the defender a big kiss on the cheek. "Unbelievable timing on this kid."

The fact that Hector Herrera was named as the tournament's top player was an insult to both Robinson and U.S. goalkeeper Matt Turner, who was rewarded with the Golden Gloves.

If there was one starring unit throughout the summer, it was the U.S. defense, and the defense magnificently was led by Robinson.

"There is trust in the player pool," Berhalter said of Robinson and the young USMNT. "The staff works extremely hard with the group in camp. We have a great staff and we have great players, and they have a great mindset and really understand what it means to play for the U.S. national team and embrace that.

"Through the course of these last couple of years, we've been evaluating people nonstop. You guys know who's been in camps, and that's what it was about: evaluating to get to this point."

Without Robinson, it's unlikely the U.S. would have gotten this far. After seeing Walker Zimmerman go down with an injury, the U.S. needed Robinson and James Sands to band together and anchor a defense. They entered the tournament with just three caps between them, but they leave as champions.

There are bigger challenges on the horizon for both Robinson and the USMNT. World Cup qualifying is just a month away, and it's in the Octagonal that the U.S. will truly have to prove themselves on the road to Qatar.

Robinson will likely get his chance on that road, as he showed he may just be a building block for this team in the years to come.

"We've got a lot of young guys in this group," Robinson said. "We've got a lot of young guys that are willing to fight for each other and fight for this country and prove that the United States is a country that you know has to be taken seriously.

"I think we really put our head down and grinded out results throughout the tournament but it's just a matter of this group being so confident with the ball, without the ball, and how we really stuck together like a family.

"I'm really excited for this group."