Antonee Robinson sat on a plane heading to the United States three years ago, doing his best to learn the words to a song he probably hadn’t spent much time thinking about before that trip.
Born and raised in England, Robinson was heading to U.S. Under-18 national team camp, his first call-up for a country he was eligible to play for, but had never lived in. As soon as the surprise call-up came, Robinson’s father let him know what he needed to do.
“My dad was the first one who said, ‘you’ll have to learn it,'” Robinson told Goal. “It was one of the first things he said. When I got called up he said, ‘you’ll need to learn the national anthem.’”
Robinson learned the words on that trip, and still knows them by heart. But after that one U-18 camp he hadn’t had a reason to use them, until a March call-up to the U.S. national team that he didn’t see coming.
It was an opportunity he has now capitalized on fully.
The 21-year-old defender has emerged as the leading candidate to fill the left back position for the United States in the next World Cup qualifying cycle. He has just two caps under his belt, but the early impression he has made has catapulted him from being relative unknown in U.S. Soccer circles, to a player seen as one of the team’s fastest-rising prospects.
How did Robinson come to be eligible for the United States? His England-born father Marlon moved to the United States during his childhood, living there nine years and going on to play college soccer at Duke University.
He secured his U.S. citizenship during that time, and several years later he took the proactive step to secure U.S. citizenship for his young son and daughter. As far as Antonee knew, the new passport his father got for him was going to help him have an easier time traveling stateside for family vacations.
Little did he know that passport would also clear a path for him to play international soccer.
The USMNT program came calling in March, around the same time that England’s Under-21 team reached out to him to attend a camp. It was the first time Robinson had ever been contacted by an England team on any level.
“It just wasn’t even a decision,” Robinson said. “I was just like, ‘it’s clear to me which country showed more faith in me.’ Not only picking me at the youth level, but picking me for the first team, so I had to show that commitment right back.”
Robinson made his USMNT debut against Bolivia in May, earning a start despite admitting to letting nerves get the better of him in that training camp. The U.S. coaches saw through the nerves and still gave him his opportunity, and he responded with a strong performance in a 3-0 USA victory.
“When I found out I was starting the game it was pretty surreal,” Robinson said. “I remember at the start of camp I was quite nervous. I wasn’t performing as well as I wanted to be in training. Then the manager called in players into individual meetings and they called me in and they told me, ‘look, we’ve seen you’re quite nervous but you’re starting this game. We want you to be confident. You’re here for a reason so seize it.’”
Robinson did that with an outstanding performance that earned him another start against mighty France.
“It was like a movie,” Robinson said of the France friendly. “It was like being stood in the tunnel of a FIFA game and looking at every single star about to come out. It was surreal.”
Robinson didn’t let a sold-out crowd in Lyon, or France’s star-studded lineup overwhelm him as he held his own in another good showing that reinforced the growing sentiment that he was the future of the U.S. left back position.
A product of the Everton youth academy, Robinson has spent nine years at the Liverpool-based club, making the move up from the academy to the first team. He has yet to break into Everton’s first team, but a successful loan stint at Bolton last season was enough to convince the Toffees to sign him to a new deal as a potential future long-term replacement for Leighton Baines. Robinson could have made the decision to play out his contract and become a free agent next summer, but decided staying with his childhood club was the best move.
“It just showed to me that they give me a lot of faith with a three-year deal,” Robinson said. “They clearly have it in their mind that I should be starting or at least competing to be their left back. When a team shows you that sort of faith that’s a team you want to stay with.”
Everton sent him out on loan again this summer, to a Wigan club that is off to a flying start in the Championship. Robinson has played a key part in that early success, and is looking very much like a prospect moving closer to being ready to start for Everton.
“As long as I keep consistently getting better, not only for my club but for the U.S. as well, I’ll be in a good position,” Robinson said. “if I can keep showing that I can play well and keep developing areas of my game, who knows, then next year that could be the next step for me.”
“Fortunately I’ve gone to a club that plays really good football,” Robinson said of Wigan. “They’ve just come up and they’re really ambitious so we’ve gotten off to a great start at the minute.”
Robinson will be hoping to carry that good club form into the USA’s upcoming friendlies against Brazil on Friday, and Mexico on Tuesday. As the latest dual-national to don the U.S. colors, Robinson acknowledges that there may be some doubts among fans about how committed he is, and just what playing for the United States means to him.
He plans to keep letting his play show how committed he is.
“Every time I step onto the field for the U.S. it means something to me,” Robinson said. “I’m representing what I say is my country now. The fans have been really great towards me. I can understand where they come from in terms of some players wanting to choose which country they want to play for.”
Robinson also admitted that he’s looking forward to the USMNT’s upcoming friendly in November against England. He isn’t taking for granted that he will be called in but knows that if he is, there will be dozens of friends and family members ready to make the trip to London to watch him.
And what will he do when the national anthems play that day? Robinson definitely won’t be singing “God Save the Queen.”
“No chance,” Robinson said. “I’ll watch respectfully, but I won’t sing it.”
Robinson is only singing one national anthem these days, and he knows the words by heart.