At Tales From Sport, we believe in giving athletes the platform to tell their stories first-hand. Of course, fans of any sports will always have their own opinion on what a players greatest moment was, but does that player feel the same? Or is there another, more personal moment that stands above all others?
In this series, we will be asking professional athletes from various sports one simple question, What do you consider the greatest moment of your career?
In the seventh edition of this series, American Goalkeeper Macklin Robinson joins us to share his answer.
‘My Greatest Moment in Sport’ by Macklin Robinson
Growing up as a fairly isolated kid in the Mid-West during the early 1990s, when soccer in America wasn’t considered as big of a sport as it is today, my journey to, and as, a professional soccer goalkeeper is filled with so many memorable moments. I can’t help but appreciate all the opportunities I’ve been given, and I am grateful to all the people who helped me get to where I am today. With that, there is a defining moment in my career that stands out from all the rest. It was an enlightening realization “after the fact” that really gave me fulfilment, and justification, for the decades of work I had put into a single discipline.
This moment occurred a year and a half after I had signed a two-year deal with a team in America’s second division of professional soccer, North Carolina FC (At the time known as the Carolina Railhawks). It was my first professional contract, and I was twenty-one years old. I had signed fresh out of college after graduating a semester early and just came off a full ACL repair a year and a half prior. Frankly, it was a miracle I was signed by any team at all, considering the extent of my injury and how it occurred right before the start of my season. Yet, despite all this, I persevered and managed to impress the right people enough to get offered my first professional contract back in 2016.
As a young goalkeeper signed for a team that includes guys that once graced the cover of the extremely popular video game FIFA (Omar Bravo), I didn’t see much playing time my first year at the club. In fact, my only stint in goal my first year as a pro was for 9 minutes at the end of an international friendly against the Premier League’s West Ham United.
It wasn’t until that following summer that I finally got a shot. It was, again, an international friendly against another premier league team, Swansea City. Which, at the time, included the likes of Chelsea FC loanee and England international Tammy Abraham, as well as ex-Arsenal goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski. Lucasz, particularly, was someone I watched on tv growing up and looked up to as a young goalkeeper. I had even studied his technique and adopted a bit of his style into my own, so it was a very exciting prospect to know that I would be sharing the field with someone of that caliber.
A little bit of context for those who don’t know, the Premier League is consistently ranked as the best soccer league globally, containing the best and highest-paid players from almost every country on the planet. So, on a hot Saturday evening in Raleigh, North Carolina, my teammates and I took the field for warm-ups, motioning our bodies through the same exercises we’ve done together thousands of times. Across from us, in their crisp, freshly printed white-out jerseys, was Swansea city, the enemy for the night. I scanned the field until I had identified their two most lethal attacking threats. At six foot five inches, Tammy Abraham stood out immediately. I remember thinking, “Wow I gotta watch out for this guy on crosses, I didn’t think he’d be that tall”. Then I soon found the smaller, but just as dangerous, Netherlands International Leroy Fer.
Knowing I wasn’t going in until the second half, I finished warm-up, headed to the bench, and settled in to watch the first half of the match so I could start making a game plan.
Not even five minutes in, I couldn’t help but laugh at my quick judgement towards Tammy, where I assumed that his height was what I needed to worry most about. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He was lightning quick and did things at a speed that I’d never seen done before. I remember, at one point, he got one ball out wide in a one vs one against our toughest and most agile defender, and he literally spun him around like a top and then jogged away with ease.
Coming into the second half after what I had just witnessed was slightly intimidating but more exciting than anything else. I was about to test my merit against one of the world’s best young players, and I couldn’t wait to find out what I was made of. Immediately off of the start, I managed to get a few good touches and saves in, which really boosted my confidence. The crowd was very much into the game, despite it being scoreless 0-0 and scorching at the time, so I used their energy to really get myself pumped and tuned into the game.
And then comes the moment…
Swansea’s winger sprints down outside of the field towards my goal. As he’s coming closer, I manage to pick out Leroy and Tammy out of the corner of my eye, both making runs into the box for a potential cross. In my head, I remember my training and predict where their runs will end up by the time the cross gets there and then shift my focus back to the player with the ball. He manages to beat our defender and send a cross into the goal box. I shift my position and track the ball as it sails over Tammy and straight to Leroy’s head less than six yards from my goal. At point-blank range, he redirects the ball low and to my left. Somehow, I’m able to move all the way across my goal, extend a strong palm and push the ball out wide, making the save. At the moment, I didn’t realize what had happened and immediately jumped back up and started organizing my defenders for the inevitable corner kick since I was the last player to touch the ball before it went “out of bounds”. It wasn’t until a few seconds later that I realized I had just made one of the best saves of my life, in the biggest game I had ever played in, against one of the best players in the world. Tammy was so shocked that he came up to me right afterwards, dabbed me up and hugged me.
I ended up finishing the game with a few more good saves, but nothing that compared to the point-blank header from Leroy. Walking off the field after the whistle blew, I was lauded by my teammates for my performance. Lukas Fabianski, the guy I had learned so much from growing up, even came up and congratulated me, claiming that even he didn’t know how I had managed to do what I had just done.
Me, a lowly no-name midwestern boy that grew up playing baseball more than soccer, had managed to beat some of the very best. And that’s when it hit me. I had always abided by the old saying, ‘With hard work and dedication, you can accomplish anything”, but I had never actually believed it until that exact moment. All the struggles, injuries, pain, and uncertainty I had endured up until that point became completely validated, and I experienced such a level of contentment I’ll never forget it until the day I die. As a result, I felt, and now always feel, like I can accomplish anything if I’m just willing to put the time and effort in.
After that game, I went on to win the starting spot and lead North Carolina to its highest league finish since its inception. Six months later, I ended up signing with Pele’s former team, the legendary New York Cosmos. This past year, I finally won my first professional championship with the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
I’ll end with this. My dad always taught me that it takes just one moment for a person’s life to change. You have to do your best to recognize that moment, be prepared for it, and seize the opportunity. He was right. That one moment threw me into the spotlight and catapulted my career to new heights. I will always be eternally grateful to him and my mom for being my biggest supporters and giving me the tools I needed to fulfil my dreams.
Macklin Robinson Biography:
Macklin Robinson is an American Goalkeeper who recently played for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the USL Championship.
Like every professional player, the 27-year old shot-stopper started playing Football/Soccer at a young age, but he did not plan on chasing the professional dream until he was a sophomore in college. The Cincinnati, Ohio native began his football journey as an outfield player, often deployed as an attacking midfielder or a striker until he was 16 years old. While playing High School football for LaSalle, the future Rowdies player was a regular goal scorer. However, Macklin believes that this had more to do with his ability to kick the ball incredibly hard and far, rather than his skill as a finisher, saying, “I would get the ball and turn and shoot and it worked out for me.”
At eight years old, Robinson got his first taste of playing as a Goalkeeper. This experience was thrust upon the young football prospect after an injury saw his team’s regular Goalkeeper forced an outfielder to don the gloves. Since Macklin was tall for his age, he was chosen to guard the net, which worked out pretty well for him in the long run. Being a multi-sport athlete at a young age immensely helped the transition into the role of a Goalkeeper. He was able to transfer his hand-eye coordination skill learnt while playing Basketball and American Football onto the Soccer pitch, allowing him to excel between the posts. The combination of his fantastic hand-eye coordination, shot-stopping skills, and his outfield experience allowed Robinson to be moulded into the highly-skilled modern ball-playing sweeper-keeper he is today.
Robinson’s breakout year came during his High School senior campaign. The Goalkeeper, who was also serving as the team captain, not only broke the record for the most shutouts/clean sheets in LaSalle High School history, but his excellent performances saw him showered in individual accolades. He was named a Division 1 Second Team All-Ohio, First Team All-City, First Team All-Southwest District and First Team All-Greater Catholic League player. In addition, the future professional player was ranked the number one Goalkeeper in Ohio by ESPN Rise Magazine and was honoured as an academic all-American.
Following his high school success, Robinson took his talents to the college level, receiving a scholarship to Ohio Dominican University in 2012. In his debut season with the ODU Panthers, under the coaching of MLS goalkeeper Matt Lampson, the LaSalle graduate started 13 games, recording a .826% save rate and earned four clean sheets. The Panthers finished with a 12-6-1 record during the 2012 season. They reached the GLIAC Tournament semi-final, but fell to Notre Dame (OH) 1-0 in extra time.
While his save rate percentage and clean sheet numbers dropped in 2013, Macklin received NSCAA Midwest Region Third Team honours for his performances between the sticks throughout his sophomore season. In the 15 games he started during his second year, the Panthers achieved a 10-4-2 record. In addition, the Columbus, Ohio university managed to avenge their semi-final loss in the GLIAC Tournament from one year prior by winning it all in 2013, beating Saginaw Valley 2-1 in the final. It was a historic moment as it was the school’s first GLIAC tournament victory in their history. Unfortunately, their postseason campaign eventually came to an end after a 1-0 loss to Lewis University in the prestigious NCAA Tournament Second Round. By the end of the year, the Panthers were ranked eighth in the nation, with Robinson’s game-saving abilities vital for the team’s success.
After two years at Ohio Dominican University, Robinson transferred to DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, after deciding to chase his dream of becoming a professional goalkeeper and walking away from his scholarship. This move saw a step up in competition for the young Goalkeeper since the DePaul Blue Demons competed in the Big East Conference in Division 1 of the NCAA, the highest level of college soccer in America. In his debut season for the Blue Demons, Robinson started all 18 of the team’s games, earning three clean sheets, including one in his very first appearance. The future Rowdies player was undoubtedly kept busy throughout the 2014 season, finishing second in the Big East and 37th in the entire country in saves, averaging 4.33 saves per game. In addition, Robinson’s fantastic performances protecting the net during the campaign earned him a place in the Big East All-Academic Team.
In the February before his senior year of college, Robinson tore his ACL. This type of injury would generally be enough to make a player miss the next season entirely. However, the determined Goalkeeper was somehow back on the field just six and a half months after his operation. Unfortunately, this injury ended any chances for Robinson to enter the MLS draft that year.
Despite the injury setback, Robinson was able to retain his spot in the Big East All-Academic Team in 2015 during his second year at DePaul University. He made 16 appearances during his senior college year, including a standout performance against Providence, recording a clean sheet while making an outstanding 11 saves. On top of this, he captained the team to its first Big East Tournament birth since 2008. Robinson graduated early from DePaul later that academic year with a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology.
In January 2016, while he was still a college student, Robinson attended InfoSport’s 2016 Pro Soccer Combine in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, a pay-to-play camp for young players who hope to go pro. The DePaul goalkeeper made his mark during the InfoSport all-star game, saving a penalty and making crucial stops during an unforgettable performance. Following impressing the scouts in attendance, Robinson entered into talks with multiple clubs. He was offered a spot in the MLS side San Jose Earthquakes’ preseason camp. However, he declined the offer after deciding it would be best to finish his degree before pursuing professional soccer.
After taking on a mammoth course load in the winter in order to graduate three months early, Robinson’s quest to become a professional goalkeeper continued. Three days after his final exam, the Goalkeeper drove to North Carolina to try out with the Carolina RailHawks. The RailHawks head coach, Colin Clarke, wanted Macklin at his club after being his coach at the InfoSport combine. It took less than one week for the team to offer Robinson his first professional contract officially.
Robinson made his RailHawks debut in a preseason game against the Premier League team West Ham United in a 2-2 draw. His competitive debut for the newly-rebranded North Carolina FC came in the prestigious US Open Cup in May 2017 in a 6-1 winning effort against the Carolina Dynamo. Two months later, the DePaul graduate was loaned to the United Soccer League’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, a team who Macklin impressed while playing against them in the preseason. Due to injuries and international call-ups, the Riverhounds needed an emergency goalkeeper, so Robinson came in on a short-term deal. The Ohio native’s first and only game for Pittsburgh came in July 2017 in a losing outing against the Charlotte Independence.
After returning to North Carolina FC later that July, Robinson saw action in the NASL Fall Championship following his impressive showing against Swansea in an international friendly. He came off the bench at halftime during a game against Indy Eleven and kept a clean sheet in the 45 minutes he played. The former LaSalle high school star started the next three games for the North Carolina side, keeping one clean sheet and losing in none of his appearances. He returned to the bench for the final game of the season. However, an injury to Brian Sylvestre in the 32nd minute required Robinson to make his second substitute appearance of the season, with both of them strangely coming against Indy Eleven.
North Carolina made the NASL playoffs following a strong season but unfortunately fell in the semi-finals to the San Francisco Deltas 1-0. This loss marked the final time Robinson played for North Carolina, with his contract expiring at the end of the season.
After the North American Soccer League folded in 2017, around a third of jobs within US Soccer were lost. This unfortunate circumstance led to Robinson suddenly facing extremely limited options going into free agency. Fortunately for the Goalkeeper, he was able to land a club in April 2018, signing with the legendary New York Cosmos, albeit their B team.
However, the New York Cosmos B was not an ordinary B team. Following the cancellation of the 2018 NASL season and subsequent lawsuit between the league and the USSF, the New York Cosmos main team went on hiatus. Nevertheless, they did still field their B team in the NPSL. During this break, the club named former Cosmos team captain and MLS player Carlos Mendes as the B team manager and moved some of the main team’s players over to Cosmos B. Unfortunately, Robinson season was cut short after just four appearances for the New York Cosmos B. The Goalkeeper suffered another gruelling ACL injury during his time in Nassau County, New York.
In 2019, the now-healed Robinson was on the move once again, with the Sunshine state being his next destination. On February 6th, the Goalkeeper headed to Florida and signed for the USL Championship side Tampa Bay Rowdies. Unfortunately, the former Cosmos shot-stopper was limited to five appearances during the 2019 USL Championship season. This was primarily due to the former Philadelphia Union and current Inter Miami goalkeeper John McCarthy claiming the number one spot. Nevertheless, Macklin recorded the first clean sheet of his Rowdies tenure this season during a 5-0 victory against Charleston Battery.
In 2020, two things were inevitable in the world of all major American sports, the COVID-19 pandemic would affect each league, and Tampa Bay would win everything. The Buccaneers won the Super Bowl, the Lightning won the Stanley Cup, the Rays won the World Series, and Robinson and the Rowdies won the USL Championship Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, however, COVID-19 robbed them of a chance to be crowned USL Champions.
After qualifying for the playoffs by winning Group H, the Rowdies embarked on an incredible playoff run. They defeated Birmingham Legion FC, Charleston Battery and Louisville City FC to win the Eastern Conference, thus earning them a place in the USL Championship game, where they were scheduled to meet Phoenix Rising FC. However, the game was cancelled one day before due to several Tampa Bay players and staff testing positive for COVID-19. League officials considered postponing the game, but this would have required quarantining both teams and giving them time for renewed training. The prospect of waiting three to four weeks to play led the league officials to cancel the game entirely. Phoenix Rising and Tampa Bay Rowdies were both recognized as their respective conference champions, but no USL Champion was crowned.
As of August 2021, Robinson has been training and coaching with his former team North Carolina FC.
Alongside his professional career, Robinson runs his own Youtube channel called American Professional Goalkeeping. He started his channel “with the goal of helping young aspiring goalkeepers understand the trials and tribulations of being a professional goalkeeper in America today.” As of this article, he currently has 6.3k subscribers and almost 500,000 views. He also has a Patreon where he has a training E-book entitled “The Big Three” Essential Drills For Every Goalkeeper.
An enormous thank you to Macklin Robinson for contributing to this article. He has been fantastic to work with and a genuinely great guy. We really appreciate the effort he put into this and for supporting our site.