Veteran Has Done Everything In Major League Soccer, But Win That Elusive Championship -- And It Motivates Him

By Glenn Crooks
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When the New York Red Bulls held that contentious town hall summit following the dismissal of Mike Petke, the player that joined Jesse Marsch and Ali Curtis on the dais for the fireworks was Luis Robles.

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After you get to know Robles, it is simple to comprehend why the organization chose the goalkeeper to represent the team.

Robles made his 128th consecutive start last weekend when the Red Bulls took on New York City FC. Earlier this season, he broke Kevin Hartman’s MLS record of 112 sequential starts.

Robles’ goals-against average is the best in franchise history. He also has the top winning percentage in club history and the most clean sheets. He currently leads Major League Soccer with six home shutouts this season.

I spoke to him last Friday after training, the day prior to the sixth edition of the Big Apple Clasico.

Glenn Crooks: MLS Insider did a fantastic piece on you this week. I encourage anyone who enjoys a heart-warming story to watch it. It’s amazing that four years ago you were almost out of the game.

Luis Robles: “Looking back, it’s pretty incredible to see where my career has gone and the journey my family’s been on in the last four years — going into next week, we’re expecting our third child (Emily was born on Tuesday, 7/26). It will be all three of our children born in New Jersey. So, for us to be able to experience some of the ups and downs of my career, but then also the joy of being parents has been pretty incredible.”

What did you think of being the focus of such personal things in the MLS Insider piece?

Robles: “I think they did a great job. It’s easy for a fan to just see and judge a player based on their performance. Often times they forget that they are also human beings and that outside the lines they go through ups and downs, personally and privately.”

When you were 6 years old, you told your dad you wanted to be a professional athlete. Did you know what sport you wanted to play?

Robles: “With my dad having a Puerto Rican background, he put a huge emphasis on me learning how to play baseball. At the time, it was geared towards becoming a baseball player. Life has a funny way of changing things. Every once in awhile he reminds that if I would have continued on my path towards baseball glory, I would have made a few more million dollars (chuckling).”

At one point did you change your allegiance from baseball to soccer?

Robles: “When I was 11 years old, our all-star baseball season came to a conclusion and my best friend, Sean, was trying out for this competitive soccer team and I tagged along. After the first day the coach told me what I already knew — that I wasn’t good enough to be on the team. A couple of weeks later, their goalkeeper got hurt and he called me back and said that if I was willing to play goalkeeper — and only goalkeeper — I could be on the team. And that was the beginning of the journey.”

When you completed your collegiate commitment, you elected to go to Germany to play instead of Major League Soccer. Any particular reason?

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Robles: “Looking back at that time, there wasn’t much financial incentive to stay. In 2007, the way contracts were structured, a developmental contract was barely paying anything — it was less than a thousand a month. I saw it as a long shot, but if I go abroad and it works out then it would be fantastic. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll come back and try it in MLS. And if that doesn’t work out, I know I have a degree.”

You had seven coaches in an 18-month period overseas — that sounds absurd and difficult for a player.

Robles: “I lost track — it was between seven and nine coaches. In Germany and Europe there’s a different perspective toward teams that are not doing well. You can’t change the players as easily as the coach, so I experienced the heavy turnover. What ends up happening, maybe you survive one coach, maybe you survive two coaches, but eventually each coach coming into that situation, they do whatever they can to shake it up.”

Eventually, you came back and after awhile things worked out with the Red Bulls. And you now have this incredible streak of consecutive games. What is the closest that you have come to sitting out a game during this stretch?

Robles: “There was one game in 2014, I won’t mention who it was against. I was very sick. I informed the trainer, I informed the coach. It was a night game and I rested all day. I showed up and wasn’t feeling great, but I got some fluids in me and after the warmup I thought I had enough to get through. Fortunately, it was a game I didn’t have to do much.”

So, you never had an injury that nearly sidelined you?

Robles: “There were a couple of injuries, but when I look back at the entire story, there is only so much credit I can take. Every professional has an understanding of how to take care of their body. But, there are unforeseeable circumstances such as injuries and suspensions. For me to be able to avoid those is something I can only take so much credit for. Chalk it up to what you want, I consider it God’s grace. For me to be able to have that many chances is something I will be forever thankful for.”

Are there certain aspects of your game that you still need work on?

Robles: “Until the day I retire, my mentality is going to be, how can I improve? There are little things each and every week, whether I recognize them in a game, during video, during training — who knows how far this thing can go.”

You won the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and your team the Supporters Shield last season, but the Red Bulls fell hard in the playoffs. Do you look at this season as unfinished business?

Robles: “I look back at my career as a youth player, as a collegiate player and as a professional — I haven’t won too many things. It’s so incredible to watch others the way they celebrate the Cup or the championship.”

And you think you have what it takes to help lead your team to MLS Cup?

Robles: “When I was a young player I always thought it was about me — what could I do to make myself better. The older I get and take on more leadership responsibilities, I see that it’s about making other people better, getting the best out of other people. You look at last year and all the personal accolades and those things are great. But at the end of the day I want to feel what it’s like to be a champion.”

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For all things futbol, please follow Glenn on Twitter at @GlennCrooks