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Wednesday 1 August 2012

The One that Got Away – And a Few Others

    Well, he’s been off the pitch for some time now, but Carl Robinson has officially announced his retirement. Having last graced the surface of Red Bull Arena, as a substitute for Teemu Tainio at the start of the second half when New York hosted Kansas City on April 30th last season – they won 1-0, by the way, with Robbo helping to hold at lead for the remainder of the match.

    An injury-affected spell in New York followed his three years of good service in Toronto. His murky departure was one of the sadder notes in what has been a discouraging – though gracefully, short – history. 

    The stink of unfulfilled promises wafted with the departure; an accusation that continued to haunt the club for some time; though others exited stage left less-gracefully.

    His shock at scoring in his return to BMO Field, a 1-4 goring by the Bull, off a Dane Richards – ahem, now Vancouver Whitecap, Dane Richards – cross to the back-post, where Robinson had snuck in unmarked and sent a header past the sprawl of Stefan Frei.

    He immediately grabs his face and stops; almost appalled at having struck, inflicting further damage or embarrassment on the club who had brought him to the New World; on the fans that had thought so highly of him and he of them.

    Once the initial smile of surprise had been stifled and faded, he removed his hand, and lowered his eyes. A gesture; but a grand one.

    His teammates encircled and patted his head in congratulation, as teammates are wont to do. It turns out that would be his last goal as a professional; he saw limited action over the next two seasons, before knees and time got the better of him.

    He seemed genuinely taken aback, robbed of energy, as he slowly made his way for the restart, by the peculiar turn of events.

    Contrast that humble reaction with the balletic outpour of emotion and aimless joy he displayed with the swirling arm celebration when he scored for Toronto.

    Thankfully, the goal for New York happened at the North End of the ground, thus sparing Robinson and the hardcore support the need for uncomfortable eye contact; but perhaps that is wrong. Memory has fogged, but his return was afforded a rare, warm-welcome for a so-called “TFC Reject”.

    Was it a measure of revenge for how shabbily events turned? A modicum of justice in an unjust world? One could declare it so; but be assured Carl would not see it that way.

    Twice named team MVP, perhaps the brightest spot of that long-gone honeymoon period; to see him in Vancouver colours stings today, and always will.

    The one that got away.

    Officially in just in his first season amongst the coaching ranks - though in preparation and practice for some time - Robinson has been ear-marked for bigger things than as simply a career assistant manager.

    His was the sort of character that enriches a club; and the sort whose removal comes at a cost.

    And whether or not his announced “official” retirement from the pitch yesterday afternoon was genuine news or other, he will forever remain an honoured member of the memories from those sunny, simpler times.

    Surely, it is only a matter of time before his name is emblazoned alongside those of Danny Dichio and Jim Brennan on the walls of the West Stand, where it belongs.

    In other former TFC player news, Chad Barrett sets off on a European adventure joining Valerenga of Norway on a six-month loan deal. Barrett was always a polarizing figure: an inflated contract – covered in Mo’s fingerprints – and a lack of goals, once famously costing one man his dignity in a dress, Chad will always be remembered as a symbol of those uncertain times in the club’s history – he was as likely to score a screamer, as he did against Montreal in the 2009 Voyageur’s Cup, as he was to miss a sitter from two yards.

    Best of luck in Norway, Mr. Barrett.

    Curiously, the name of Johann Smith popped up on a match report from New York’s recent reserve match against Philadelphia. Whether this is the same Smith can only be assumed; he was not designated as a guest player, or trialist, nor has he been added to any rosters.

    After spending a rocky spell at various clubs and trialling around Europe without success, hopefully a bit of playing time will do the young man some good.

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