It has been apparent for some time that Everton need a successor for Leighton Baines. The 33 year old left back has been one of the best Blues of this generation - and one of the best fullbacks in England, period - but he’s also not quite the player he was once, and at that age, there’s no telling when he could break down for good.
When Everton have been without Baines over the last several years, it shows. Varying options have been tried in the position to not much success. Brendan Galloway and Cuco Martina shuffled in and out again without making anywhere close to the same impact as Baines.
Callum Connolly was tried out during this past preseason, while Ramiro Funes Mori has been shoehorned wide left on occasion. Luke Garbutt may or may not be a figment of our collective imaginations.
For the United States men’s national team, the story is somewhat similar. The search for a consistent answer at left-back is a quest that presumably goes all the way back to 1776.
Consider the list of players who have played left-back for the United States at the FIFA World Cup since 2002: Frankie Hedjuk (really a right back), Jeff Agoos (more a center back than a left back, also 34 years old at the time), Eddie Lewis (really a winger), Carlos Bocanegra (definitely a center back), Johnathan Bornstein (very bad), and DaMarcus Beasley (a converted winger).
There are some decent players in that list (and one Johnathan Bornstein), but none that you’d call an actual left back.
In recent years, we’ve seen additional players get their chance at the position, to no real avail. Fabian Johnson has been tried out at left back numerous times, but he’s really a winger.
English Championship defenders Eric Lichaj and Tim Ream have been given a few opportunities, and recently Liga MX fullback Jorge Villafana has spent time in the position. We’ll say nothing of the brief spells that Edgar Castillo and Matt Besler “enjoyed” as a United States left back.
Everton and the United States men are having an impossibly difficult time at left back — the Toffees need to replace a club icon, and the USMNT needs anybody. Strangely, the solution to the problem could be the same for both teams.
Enter 20 year old Antonee Robinson. Born in England, the Everton academy product is eligible for the USA through his father’s American citizenship. Robinson has spent time in the United States’ youth system, and his path to the Three Lions is somewhat blocked by the likes of Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand. He’s been recalled by the US senior side for the current international break, and looks set to play.
In the meantime, Robinson has been one of Bolton’s top players this season in the Championship. He’s played 30 times so far on the year-long loan from Goodison Park, and registered 5 assists, which leads all Wanderers.
Robinson’s ascendancy is in stark contrast to the last promising left-back that Everton attempted to develop.
Brendan Galloway was thrown into the Premier League fire before he was ready, then loaned to West Bromwich Albion where he played three times and was sent back to the Blues. From there, Galloway was loaned to Sunderland, where he has played four times and now spends his days with their youth side, openly pining for a return to League One.
Robinson, though, has exceeded expectations at Bolton, and been rewarded with a full United States call-up. When the 2018-19 season begins, Antonee Robinson might find himself the answer to a major question - who is Everton and the United States’ left back of the future?