France and the Netherlands are scoreless with about 10 minutes remaining when Antonee “Jedi” Robinson walks into a hotel conference room and sits down for an interview with FOX Sports. 

The 26-year-old left back for the U.S. men’s national team takes a glance at the screen on the table, then waves away an apology for denying him the chance to see a potentially dramatic conclusion to the marquee group-stage match of the ongoing European Championship

“I don’t really watch a lot of games,” he says. “I’ve got a lot of other interests. It’s nice to get away from it sometimes.” 

Jedi — the name Robinson has used to introduce himself to everybody he’s met since falling in love with Star Wars at 5 years old — has been the most interesting man on the national team ever since his 2018 debut.

Whether in U.S. camp or with Fulham, his club in England’s Premier League, Jedi wows teammates with a wide array of non-soccer skills. He plays the piano. He pulls off elaborate card tricks. And he taught himself to do both by religiously studying videos on YouTube. 

“I just like to challenge myself,” he says.  “If I see something that catches my interest, and it feels like it’s achievable, I’ll just learn how to do it.”

“He’s so talented on so many different levels,” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter says of Robinson. “If he wasn’t a professional soccer player, he’d be amazing at something else.”

Fortunately for Berhalter and his squad, Jedi has been amazing for the national team for a couple of years now. Lining up behind U.S. headliner Christian Pulisic on the left flank, Robinson was superb in Sunday’s 2-0, Copa América-opening win over Bolivia. And while he doesn’t get the attention that Pulisic or rugged midfielders Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie receive, he’s emerged as one of the team’s most important members, both on the field and off.

Robinson locked down the USMNT’s left back spot — for decades the program’s hardest-to-fill position — during qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. He was a stalwart at the main event in Qatar, where he played all but five minutes of the Americans’ four games. He helped the U.S. to an undefeated group stage that included a shutout of England, the country where he was born and raised.

Antonee Robinson’s father paved his path to 2022 World Cup

In an alternate universe, Jedi might have been playing for the Three Lions in that game or at these Euros. But he turned down a chance to represent England’s under-21 squad six years ago to accept an invitation from the senior U.S. team, and he never looked back.

Robinson’s unmistakable Liverpool accent might throw some people off even now, but he’s always been in touch with his American roots. His father, also born in England, moved to suburban New York City as a youth, became a citizen, and played college soccer at Duke University before returning to the U.K. and meeting Antonee’s mom. Years later, the family considered uprooting and moving across the Atlantic, to New York or Florida, but by then Jedi had joined Everton’s academy. They settled for the occasional stateside vacation instead.

Two serious injuries threatened to derail the then-18-year-old’s rise before it had even started. Robinson had surgery on each of his knees in successive seasons, the second a microfracture procedure that cost him an entire year of development and left his future uncertain.

“Everton easily could’ve looked at my injury history and said, ‘You haven’t really played much, we don’t see this working out,'” he says. “Thankfully, they gave me another year to prove myself.”

Robinson did so well on loan at second-tier club Wigan Athletic in 2019-20 that AC Milan agreed to buy him for $13 million in January of 2020 and bring him to Italy. But during what all parties expected to be a routine physical exam, the seven-time European champs’ doctors detected an irregular heartbeat. Not only was the deal off, Robinson’s career was in doubt once again. 

Antonee Robinson is shown playing for Wigan Athletic in 2020. (Photo by Dave Howarth – CameraSport via Getty Images)

“I had a dream move to AC Milan ruined by something that I wasn’t aware was even an issue,” Jedi says. 

Heart surgery was scheduled, then pushed back because of the pandemic. By the time he was set to go under the knife, the surgeons discovered that the problem had self-corrected. “They told me it was caffeine-related,” he says. 

Robinson returned to the field immediately and started Wigan’s last nine games of the season. That August, Fulham brought him to the Prem. But he still couldn’t get called in by Berhalter, who capped Jedi just twice over a 24-month period beginning in 2019. He didn’t become a regular until late 2021. 

That’s hard to believe now. “He’s one of the first names on the team sheet every time we’re together,” Berhalter says. 

Last season was Jedi’s best yet in the Prem. He established himself as one of the top left backs in the world’s leading domestic circuit, and was named Fulham’s player of the 2023-24 campaign earlier this month. 

Asked what changed, Robinson credited the fortuitous timing of last November’s international window. “My form kind of dipped and [Cottagers manager Marco Silva] told me that there were little details I needed to adjust. Then I leave for the international break up and score two goals against Trinidad. That was the turning point in my season. I remember coming back and feeling like I was flying.”

The national team has become a refuge for lots of players who need a brief change of scenery to recharge in a nurturing and supportive environment. Robinson is no different. The bond he has with his teammates is obvious.

“Jedi is one of my closest friends on the team,” says forward Tim Weah. “He’s a machine, so working with a guy like that day in day out is wonderful. He keeps me on my toes. We’re usually going against each other at training, which is really fun.”

Behind the scenes, he has also quietly emerged as a player others look to during difficult moments.

“He leads vocally, but mostly by performance,” goalkeeper Matt Turner says. “The guy shows up, he stays fit, he does all the right things on and off the pitch.

“He’s also right in that middle age range as well, where he can relate to the younger guys but also to the older guys,” Turner adds. “Everybody wants to have him around and spend time with him.”

When young left back Kristoffer Lund joined the team last year, he raved about how welcoming Robinson, his direct competitor, had been. 

Says Berhalter: “He’s a glue guy. In every situation, he’s really calm and level-headed. He’s a critical piece of what we do, but I think because of the position that he plays, he doesn’t get a ton of attention.” 

That could change over the next two years. Robinson says his goal is to win this Copa América; a deep run would certainly boost his profile in the U.S. Then there’s the 2026 World Cup on home soil, which represents a once-in-a-career opportunity for USMNT members to become household names among mainstream sports fans. That’s part of the reason Jedi is committed to continued improvement. He’s trying to improve his crossing and technical ability. He recently signed a five-year contract extension with Fulham, but lists competing in the UEFA Champions League as one of his main ambitions. There are others, too. “I’ve thought about getting Jedi on the back of my jersey,” he laughs. “I don’t know if that would be possible.”

Jedi Robinson may not watch much soccer, but he couldn’t be more dedicated to his craft. “I want to win trophies with my club and with the U.S., play 100 games for the national team,” he says.  “There’s a lot of goals that I have. Who knows how many I’ll reach?”

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered the United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him at @ByDougMcIntyre.

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