Miles Robinson's rise has been both gradual and all at once. He enjoyed a star-making summer, one which saw him emerge as the U.S. men's national team's latest hero.
The second-overall pick of the 2017 MLS Draft, Robinson has been seen as a talented young center-back since breaking out at Syracuse. He's risen steadily through the ranks at Atlanta United in the years since, emerging as a Best XI player in 2019 and then sealing an All-Star nod this season.
Every year, Robinson has taken some sort of step forward, though often the strides have been barely noticeable to the casual observer.
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But, in terms of international ascendance, Robinson's rise has been sudden. He had earned just two caps heading into 2021, and after appearing at January camp he was blocked from playing for the under-23s ahead of what eventually became a disastrous Olympic qualifying campaign.
Despite his steady steps in MLS, he was still growing into a true No.1 defender and had yet to truly make his mark on the global stage.
That changed in a hurry during a dream July stretch.
His arrival was heralded by the winning goal against Mexico in the dying moments of the Gold Cup final, putting an exclamation on a tournament that saw Robinson emerge as the USMNT's defensive leader; the team didn't concede at all from open play.
The momentum continued on with a return to MLS and, ultimately, an All-Star Game appearance as the MLS side took down the Liga MX All-Stars in a shootout.
Robinson spent July and August answering any and all questions about where he fits into the American soccer picture. But, in this sport, there's only one question that matters, one that Robinson is now tasked with answering in the months to come: what's next? How does someone find a way to follow up on what truly was a life-altering summer?
"It's been a little bit hectic," Robinson tells Goal. "I don't know if I've taken a full step back or a breather to look at the whole situation, but I don't mind it because I just have to keep working.
"I've been building for years to put myself in situations like this. I think it's something I've been building up towards for the last five years, six years. There's been a lot of work behind the scenes to put myself in situations like this, and I'm definitely honored to be a part of all of these talks with World Cup qualifying or All-Star Games."
The 24-year-old defender's next task? Helping the U.S. handle World Cup qualifying this fall. That process starts on Thursday in El Salvador and continues on in a 14-game sprint straight through to March, with that sprint determining whether or not the U.S. will head to Qatar.
John Brooks has been a penciled-in starter for years for the U.S., and he's only solidified his claim in recent weeks by helping propel Wolfsburg to the top of the Bundesliga table. There is an opening alongside Brooks, though, and it appears to be Robinson's for the taking with his stock seemingly above players like Aaron Long, Mark McKenzie, Tim Ream, Matt Miazga and Walker Zimmerman.
"He should have been player of the tournament in the Gold Cup," said USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter, speaking on the award that was handed to Mexico's Hector Herrera despite El Tri's defeat. "Just based on his performance throughout the entire tournament, based on the fact that he scored two goals as a central defender, that we won the tournament, that we only gave up one goal all tournament on a penalty kick.
"He exceeded expectations in the Gold Cup and we're going to be looking for him to do that again in this qualifying round. He's a quality player and, for him, it's about taking that next step."
For many, that next step would be somewhat obvious: Europe.
On the heels of a player-of-the-tournament-level performance, most players would be linked to all sorts of European teams, and Robinson certainly has the talent and potential to mix it up in any of Europe's top leagues. He's incredible athletically and he may just be American soccer's best one-on-one defender, despite having just a few full seasons of professional games under his belt.
But, despite seeing Gold Cup teammates Sam Vines, Gianluca Busio, Nicholas Gioacchini and Matthew Hoppe all make moves this summer, it's been relatively quiet when it comes to transfer speculation about Robinson. He hasn't really been linked with a European move, although those links would certainly come if he shines once again this fall.
As someone that played college soccer at Syracuse, Robinson understands that his path makes him a late-bloomer. Heading into the Gold Cup, it would be easy to see why European clubs would be nervous about signing a 24-year-old defender with still-limited international experience.
But it's because of the path he's taken so far that he's not too concerned about the path ahead, wherever that may lead, and why he isn't worried about whether European interest comes in the coming weeks, in January or whenever.
"I'm just focusing on Atlanta and playing there," he says. "Whatever happens, happens. It's something that I don't try to focus on because I just try to focus on what I can control and that's pretty much it."
He added: "I think everyone's path is different so it doesn't really matter if you go to college, straight to the pros or academies or something like that but, for me, college was my path, and I definitely enjoyed it, getting coached by Ian McIntyre, who is a great coach, we had a lot of good players come through Syracuse and they're doing big things right now.
"Just the mental side of it, he demanded a lot from his players and I think that's kind of something that you can always take with you for your own career."
It remains to be seen where Robinson's career twists and turns, especially after a rise that has been herky-jerky. Over the next few months, Robinson will look to build upon his big step forward by taking another one.
He has the potential to become the USMNT's go-to center-back at the right time as there are plenty of big games and big moments ahead for a player that has already cemented himself in USMNT history.
But what's next for Miles Robinson? Only time will tell.
"I'm not sure, I have to just go day by day," he says. "We'll see what happens. I can't look into the future and tell you but right now, I'm just happy to be a part of all of this."