11 January 2012

No holds barred: Retiring Houston defender Eddie Robinson is one of a kind

The lasting image of Eddie Robinson as a player will surely be one of him yelling at a referee or an opponent with unrestrained anger, believing he had somehow been wronged. (Heck, that’s his MLSsoccer.com player bio picture on the right.) But there’s so much more to Eddie Robinson than fury and emotion and physicality. They’re all there, of course, but they don’t tell the whole story.

If you brave Eddie Robinson’s initial, intimidating scowl to ask a question, you’ll get a thoughtful, candid, well-spoken answer. This fall, I asked Eddie for his five favorite playoff memories, hoping to use the answers as part of a retrospective for the gameday magazine for the Dynamo’s Nov. 3 playoff game. He stopped, thought, and said, “That’s hard. I’m going to have to think about that. Can I call you later and give them to you? I can’t just do that on the spot.” And true to form, he provided them later that day.

To be fair, Robinson had a lot of playoff memories to choose from. He played in 19 playoff games in his career and was a part of MLS Cup championship teams in 2001, 2003, 2006, and 2007 – one of only six MLS players with four league titles. Amazingly, Robinson was on the field with four of the other five (Agoos, De Rosario, Donovan, Mullan) for the Earthquakes’ 2003 championship team, putting that group in some perspective.

At his best, Robinson was a hard-nosed, shut-down, occasionally dirty center back that opposing forwards hated to play against. He was also great as an aerial threat on at attacking free kicks, and one of my favorite Robinson memories is his headed tying goal against Pachuca in the 2007 SuperLiga semifinal – and the emotion he showed in celebrating it.

One of his other signature moments came in the 2006 MLS All-Star Game, when he slid to clear a ball off the goal line and preserve the 1-0 MLS victory over English powerhouse Chelsea. Robinson was at his best from 2005-08, when he helped San Jose to the Supporters’ Shield in 2005, Houston to back-to-back MLS Cup titles in 2006-07, and the Dynamo to the league’s lowest goals against average in 2007-08, including the league-record shutout streak in 07. He was also a key part of Houston’s Champions’ Cup and Champions League success.

Perhaps the most unique Eddie Robinson stat is his 100-percent scoring record in international soccer. Robinson’s lone appearance for the United States came in a friendly against Sweden in 2008. Robinson earned the call-up on the heels of a Best XI season in 2007 and his second All-Star selection, and he put it to good use by crashing home a rebound goal from a set piece.

Outspoken about everything but himself, Robinson is proud of his accomplishments in a real, every-man sort of way. When someone asks him about his success, he marvels at it with wide eyes like you or I would if we woke up and found four MLS Cup titles and a national team call-up on our resume.

But in the later years of his career, burned by injury that cost him almost all of 2009 and seemed to hinder him even in 2010, the pride showed in a new way. He knew he would not be in the starting lineup every game, but he also knew how training sessions should be contested and how much fight was required to maintain a consistent level, and he took pride in showing that every day.

A champion of intensity and winning desire, Robinson brought it to the field when he was handed a rare start last year on June 11 against Chivas USA. Riding a seven-game winless streak and coming off a disheartening loss in San Jose, the Dynamo came to life with Robinson’s insertion into the lineup. Fittingly, he was the man crashing the near post to force the game-winning own goal from a Brad Davis corner kick, but, all too fittingly for his career, Robinson immediately went to the ground in pain and left the game due to injury. Still, the intensity and desire in his 56 minutes made a difference, and you could see it a week later when Houston went down to a 2-0 defeat without him.

Off the field, Robinson is thoughtful, mild-mannered, eloquent, funny, and – belying his hard-man reputation – nice. He makes a mean fried chicken, I’m told, among other delicacies, and enjoys preparing it even more than he does eating it. When discussing a good meal, cooked or eaten, his eyes light up just as they would describing a game-winning goal. A dedicated husband and proud father of two, the true-blue North Carolina Tar Heel always makes kids feel comfortable when asking for an autograph, perhaps because he’s a big kid himself.

As an example: After one trip late this year, we were waiting for baggage in the Houston airport, and Robinson was sitting down with a video game console next to him. Honduran forward Carlo Costly, whose minimal knowledge of English was only a minor impediment for his outgoing personality, came up to Eddie and asked about the gaming console. Gesturing and grasping for words, Costly asked what games it played, how much it cost, and if Eddie had bought it on the trip. To the last question, Eddie shook his head with a definitive, ‘No,’ and did his best to explain to Carlo that Eddie brought his video games with him on all trips and never put them with checked baggage.

While sad to see the end of Robinson’s playing days, I can think of no better place for Eddie in retirement than coaching young Dynamo players in the club’s academy and sharing his honest, eloquent opinions as a color analyst on Houston TV and radio broadcasts. His charges and his listeners can expect knowledge, enthusiasm, and honesty - it would not be Eddie Robinson if he held anything back.

Wilf Thorne / Houston Dynamo


  1. I ran into Eddie at a restaurant in Houston a couple of years ago and introduced myself. He was sincere, passionate, kind and funny. He actually apologized for not playing a better game the previous week. Great guy. Glad he's going to stick around.

  2. Thanks for the great set of memories JY. Eddie is a pro's pro and will always be one of my favorite Dynamo. Here is a tribute I shared over at the Dynamo Theory site:

    Fare thee well Johnny Rocco.

    I always called him that because that was the character played by Edward G. Robinson in the film Key Largo. Johnny Rocco tells you how to get it done and how it’s going to be:


    That is one of the ways I remember Eddie. He was tough as nails back there and completely owned the center back spot. Woe betide anyone who came back there too. I could not have been happier when he scored for the US against Sweden in 2008. He had just come Dynamo’s second consecutive championship, and then got his long-awaited callup. Eddie’s is the first goal on this video (and kudos to you if you can find a better highlight package from that game. My Google Fu fails me here).


    Soon after that, Eddie sustained first the ankle injury and then the knee injury that would ultimately end his career. He was never the same player again.

    For me, though, the thing I remember most about Eddie was in an onfield interview he did at RFK after the second title. He pointed over to traveling supporters and said (and I am quoting this from memory): “I hope that every day I go onto the field, I show at least a tenth of the passion that these fans show in supporting us.”

    Mission accomplished Eddie.