The potential loss of Carl Robinson would be devastating for Toronto FC
Carl Robinson came to Canada to find his smile.
After spending more than a decade bouncing between no fewer than nine teams in England, Robinson fell out of love with soccer, and was looking for something to reignite his passion for the game.
He signed with Toronto FC in January 2007 and in his two seasons with the Major League Soccer club Robinson has firmly established himself as the team's best and most consistent player.
Robinson found his smile in Canada, but now the Welshman is thinking about returning to England.
Return to England a possibility
The veteran midfielder told CBCSports.ca in an exclusive interview this week that this could be his last season in MLS. Robinson said he plans to sit down with his family once the campaign is over and make a decision as to whether he'll be back in Toronto next year or head back to England to finish out his career.
"I love this place. If you watch me play, you'll see that I play with a smile on my face. I enjoy it here, my family loves it here, but I have to do what's right for my family. It's not just about an individual decision or selfish decision from me — it's a family decision," Robinson said.
It's a big decision, but making big decisions is nothing new to the Welshman.
"It was a big decision when I came over here two years ago, and it was the right decision because I have my hunger for the game back. I was really unhappy," Robinson said. "Now it's another big decision I have to make two years down the line."
If he does decide to go, it would leave a gaping hole in Toronto's roster.
Robinson's meagre scoring record — just three goals during his two seasons with Toronto — suggests he is a marginal player whose contributions are negligible.
But statistics, as is often the case, don't tell the entire story and they don't measure how important Robinson is to Toronto FC.
Robinson provides the steel and grit in Toronto's midfield, while his tireless and ball-winning efforts create the opportunities and open up the space that allow the team's more creative players, namely Honduran playmaker Amado Guevara, to work their magic.
He is Dean Martin to Guevara's Jerry Lewis — Guevara gets the laughs, but Robinson, acting as the duo's "straight man," sets him up to deliver the punch line.
Not only is Robinson the first line of defence from his central position in front of the back four, but he is also the crucial link between the defenders and the forwards, his immaculate distribution of the ball so often launching a dangerous counter-attack.
It's been Robinson's remarkable consistency and poised play that recently led one notable American soccer commentator to publicly laud the Welshman as the league's best holding midfielder, echoing the sentiments of what a few members of the Toronto media, including this writer, have been saying for months.
The iron man
Robinson is also an iron man, a glutton for punishment and one of the first names coach John Carver writes down on the team sheet when he's putting together his starting lineup before a game. Robinson has started in 52 games over the past two seasons, logging 4,676 minutes of playing time. Only captain Jim Brennan — 53 starts, 4,802 minutes — has seen more action for Toronto since the club's inception.
But more than that, Robinson is a leader and the most respected player in the Toronto FC locker-room.
At 32 years of age, the Welshman has seen it all during his career in England, and Toronto's young players often look to the man known affectionately as "Robo" for guidance and advice both on and off the field.
His skills as a mentor are unquestionable, and as a result, Toronto FC has reaped the rewards.
It was Robinson who took an active role in serving as Maurice Edu's on-field tutor last season. Playing side by side with Robinson in the centre of midfield, Edu earned a soccer education en route to being named MLS rookie of the year in 2007. A season later, Toronto sold Edu, 22, to Scottish club Glasgow Rangers for a whopping $5 million — a princely sum for a sophomore star who played with a level of maturity well beyond his years.
And ultimately, that's Carl Robinson's greatest asset, his knack for making teammates better players and helping to elevate the play of those around him.
If only there were a statistic to measure that.