Luis Robles has now played in an MLS-record 142 games and counting. (Eric Bolte/USA Today Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Front Row Soccer Editor
HARRISON, N.J. — It’s funny how many twists and turns life can take you.
Five years ago this July, Luis Robles was ready to give up the beautiful game. He was released from his German club, Karlsruher SC, and could not find a team in Europe to call home.
So, he returned home to the United States, looking into the possibility of becoming a real estate agent.
“I remember July 2012 when you guys didn’t know who I was,” he said. “I was just sitting there thinking, ‘It was a good run, it’s time to move on.’ Though my parents were definitely supporting me, my wife was hounding me, like ‘It’s not done yet, we need to give it one more try. Do whatever it takes, bypass an agent, google Major League Soccer. I really think you’re going to regret this if you don’t give it one last try.’ ”
Robles gave it one last try and the Red Bulls signed him to a minimum wage contract. Little did he know he was going to embark on one incredible journey at the end of the season, starting a remarkable 142-consecutive game streak. On Saturday, Robles broke Chris Klein’s league mark in the Red Bulls’ 1-0 triumph over the Colorado Rapids at Red Bull Arena and holds the record all my his lonesome.
“So it was with her encouragement and motivation I pursued it and I couldn’t thought of it being something like this,” Robles said. “So, I know that she’s emotional before the game. I was emotional before the game. I was trying to hold it together.”
Don’t worry. Robles did during 90 minutes of frigid weather that was better suited for an ice hockey game than a soccer match.
While he was not the goalkeeping star of the game — former MetroStars keeper Tim Howard just about stood on his head, making seven saves to keep the Rapids within striking distance — he did what he needed to do to backstop the Red Bulls to a 2-0 mark. He made one save, denying Dominique Badji’s effort in the 72nd minute.
“Luis, man, he deserves all of this,” Bradley Wright-Phillips said. “It’s not playing in all those games, it’s playing well for 90 percent of those games. In 99 percent of those games, he can be counted on. That record there it just verifies that. Good luck to the next person trying to [break it]. He still has ages to go.”
To truly appreciate what Robles has meant to the team, perhaps it would be wise to talk to the players who form the backline in front of him. We talked to three of his back four.
“Luis is a brick wall back there,” rookie center back Aaron Long said. “He makes everyone’s life easier on our team. He bails us out and he did it today a couple of times. We love him back there.”
No doubt about it.
Center back Damien Perrinelle probably knows Robles long than any other Red Bull. He has been most impressed with the level the keeper demands of himself.
“I am here for four years and I can’t even tell you that Luis missed a game,” he said. “He was never bad in a game. He still has high standards. He still making a lot of saves. The way we play we need a strong goalkeeper and that’s what it is.
“For him to get this record, I think he deserves it so much. He has a good [influence] with the team every day at the training. He’s still focused. He’s getting better and better every day. Every time he goes on the field, he just wants to be better than the day before. He broke the record and it’s not done.”
Jamaican international left Kemar Lawrence could be closer to Robles than any other teammate. He has known the goalkeeper for 2 1/2 years.
“He’s a guy with a huge character,” he said. “He’s a Christian and I’m also a beleiver. I’m really close to him. He’s a person that i really love to talk to. but in this team and on the field, you could say he’s a Bradley Wright-Phillips, he’s a Sacha Kljestan, he’s just a pure leader. And he leads from the back going forward. He leads in the changing room, in the training pitch, on match days. He’s just a pure leader. He was born with it. And when a guy like that is on your team, he gives you the confidence to go out each and every day and just work. And the things that you see and do, the consistency that he has, the way that he treats his body, day in and day out, those are things that you look on. those are things that you want to do the same, that you want to accomplish. He’s just a great guy. I’m happy that he’s my teammate.”
And even when he yells at you and the defense?
No problem, Lawrence said.
“He has to. That’s his job,” he said. “He yells because he sees everything before we even see it. He yells to keep us in place. He yells to get us at the right spot. I love the yelling because if he wasn’t yelling, then something was wrong. When he yells, we get in the right places and we get our job done. The yelling is never a problem. It shows that he’s there and shows that he’s always there.”
It should not be surprising that Robles was humble when talking about his achievement, acknowledging just about everyone but himself. But that’s the essence of Luis Robles.
“I was a little surprised after the game how we got caught up in it,” he said. “At the end of the day, I feel so grateful to be part of this organization. I feel grateful for all of the coaches who believed in me. Hans Backe for giving me my first start, Mike Petke for staying with me when maybe other people were saying that we should move on and of course, Jesse when he came from day one [he said] … that I was going be huge part of this organization. To have these coaches backing me has been important.”
So, let’s have his coach have the last word on Robles, whose opposition Saturday was former MetroStars keeper Tim Howard. Howard made seven saves to keep the Rapids in the game.
“It’s not surprising with the two goalkeepers in this match that it turned out to be a one-nil game,” Marsch said. “I know that they both took it personally, looking across the other side of the field that there’s competition with the national team. Obviously, Tim’s a very established guy with the national team, but I think Luis is emerging as a guy that they can count on. I wouldn’t be surprised to see luis called into to the next camp because he’s had a really good start to the year. I think he had a really good game. That part of the battle was really fun to watch. Even though Tim made some great saves, Luis wound up coming away with the win and the shutout.”
Hmmm. If Robles did get the call from U.S. head coach Bruce Arena, his consecutive match streak would be in jeopardy because the Red Bulls are scheduled to host Real Salt Lake at RBA Saturday, March 25. In a pair of vital World Cup qualifying matches, the U.S. hosts Honduras March 24 and visits Panama March 28.
Would seeing the streak go by the wayside matter to Robles? Probably not. If records are set that’s fine, if the team wins, that’s even better.
That’s the essence of Luis Robles.