If you wanted to sum up Javier Robles’ entire MLS experience in one example, you would need to go back to the soccer field at West Valley College last week. As the Earthquakes worked out in an eight-on-eight drill, Joey Gjertsen fired a long, dipping pass from the right midfield across the goalmouth, a ball that Robles met perfectly in mid-air, redirecting it with his left foot to score at the back post.
And then, as the ball nestled in the net, an Earthquakes assistant coach whistled Robles for a questionable offsides call. Even in practice, Robles can’t catch a break.
And unfortunately for the Quakes, that’s been the theme of his first MLS season.
Robles, 25, came to San Jose as a veteran of the Argentine league, playing for Vélez Sarsfield and Olimpo de Bahía Blanca over four seasons. He was one of the team’s top targets in the offseason as general manager John Doyle tried to bolster his midfield corps.
In the beginning, it all looked good. He started at center mid, alongside Andre Luiz, in the Quakes’ season opener against Real Salt Lake. From there, however, the trajectory of Robles’ brief Stateside sojourn has veered off course:
- He was pulled at halftime of the 3-0 loss to RSL.
- He didn’t get off the bench in San Jose’s 2-1 win at Chicago.
- He was left off the 18-man roster -- the only healthy scratch -- in a 2-0 win over New England.
- He was not among the 18 who traveled to Los Angeles for the Quakes’ most recent game, a 3-2 loss to Chivas USA on Saturday.
All of which begs a simple question: What happened?
Unfortunately, there’s no answer of similar brevity. Robles is fully healthy, and he insists it’s not merely a crisis of confidence.
“Yes, yes, yes,” Robles told MLSsoccer.com through a translator when asked if he still believes in his skills. “I definitely have that confidence still that I’ll get back into the 18. I don’t have any negative thoughts about myself.”
The Quakes have done their best to help bolster that feeling. Assistant coach Ian Russell recently gave Robles a keep-your-head-up speech, and he isn’t alone in that campaign.
“I think everybody around here has been doing a lot of [clapping Robles the shoulder], saying ‘Don’t worry. It’ll come,’” Doyle said. “I’m patient, and I think Javier is a very good technical player. I’m not worried about him.”
Robles has not exactly shown blazing speed on the field, and that’s one theory as to the root cause of his problems.
“We’ve seen him play quite a few times,” Yallop told MLSsoccer.com. “He handles it and looks like it’s physically fine, he can tackle. But you don’t realize the speed of everything until you get in the game.”
Robles agreed that MLS’ style of play has thrown him off.
“The pressure they put on you defensively has been the biggest adjustment,” Robles said. “In preseason, I felt like I dealt with it well. In [regular-season] games, I have to respond better to that and focus on my game, to make the right passes at the right times.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @sjquakes.