VANCOUVER, BC – Over the next two weeks, keeping LA Galaxy star Robbie Keane off the scoresheet is going to be a constant strain on Carl Robinson’s mind.
The high-powered Galaxy haven’t lost a game in which Keane has scored since October 6, 2012 – that’s a 12-match unbeaten run. With Vancouver Whitecaps FC set for back-to-back meetings with the Galaxy, Robinson knows that shutting down Keane will go a long way in getting a result in these upcoming games.
It doesn’t take an expert to figure that out. After all, the Irish striker is considered to be one of Major League Soccer’s top players. But to the ‘Caps manager, he’s more than that.
He’s also one of Robinson’s oldest friends in the league.
“We grew up together,” Robinson told whitecapsfc.com. “We broke into the first team at Wolverhampton [Wanderers] at the same time. He was 17 and I was 21. We obviously developed a rapport and we’ve remained very good friends ever since.”
Both players made their professional debuts with the Wanderers back in 1997, but they took different routes to get there. Robinson worked his way up the club’s different ranks before making his first-team debut, while Keane made the jump directly from the youth team.
At any rate, Robinson said they bonded through their desire to succeed at the next level. In fact, he and Keane became so close that they ended up buying houses within 15 yards of one another.
“That’s the relationship we had, on and off the field,” Robinson said. “We were young and enthusiastic and we wanted to get into the first team. We were lucky enough to be playing with Steve Bull, Don Goodman and legends like that at the club. They were the old brigade and we were the new brigade. It was just disappointing that Robbie only stayed there for a season because Coventry bought him for six million pounds, which shows how much of a young talent was.”
Though they went their separate ways, Robinson and Keane have maintained a strong relationship over the years – a relationship that came full circle, so to speak, when Keane joined Robinson in MLS in 2011.
Since then, Keane has scored 36 goals in 58 regular season appearances with the Galaxy. Meanwhile, Robinson enjoyed a successful playing career with Toronto FC and New York Red Bulls before moving into the coaching ranks full time with Whitecaps FC.
Robinson and Keane’s relationship stemmed from soccer, but it was reinforced by their experiences away from the game.
“We have [remained close], through the ups and downs,” Robinson said. “We both lost our fathers. Obviously Rob is married with kids and I’m married with kids as well. We still speak all the time. And I think Rob has some sense of going into management as well. It will be an interesting day when I see him on Saturday. I know that he’ll be looking forward to putting one over on me, but vice versa I’ll be looking forward to putting one over on him.”
In order to do that, the ‘Caps will likely rely upon their experienced centre back duo of Andy O’Brien and Jay DeMerit. O’Brien also knows Keane well, having played against him in Europe and alongside him with the Republic of Ireland national team for several years.
In total, Keane and O’Brien have battled each other on the pitch 14 times throughout the years in England and most recently in MLS. Keane holds the edge with a 7W-4L-3D record, having scored four goals in those games.
“It will be a good test for Andy,” said Robinson, adding that U.S. national team star Landon Donovan is another “fantastic player” that the ‘Caps need to contain. “If you let Robbie play, he can destroy you.”
So, what’s the best way to make sure that doesn’t happen?
“Well, I would say kick him, but that probably won’t be a good thing,” Robinson joked. “You have to try and get under his skin a little bit, but be clever because he’ll try and suck you in to get you booked. And he’ll try to get in your head by pulling you about and playing little give and goes. It’s a cat and mouse game with him.”
And as Robinson has seen over the last 17 years, Keane often comes out on top. Over the next two games, however, he's hoping it will be a different story.
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