Every now and then something comes up in our internal Slack room discussion, which leads to a post here. Recently, a conversation started about the best Syracuse athletes, which led to the suggestion that the contest might come down to men’s soccer player Miles Robinson and men’s distance runner Justyn Knight. No #disrespekt to other worthy candidates, but these two are among the NCAA’s best in their sport, so moderator Andy Pregler had TNIAAM soccer writer Steve Haller and TNIAAM track & field writer Kevin Wall make their case.
Andy Pregler: Both programs in question have completed rises into the national conversation thanks in part to the work of these two athletes. The obvious question is how much does each mean to their respective team. Steve, let's start with you: how much does Miles Robinson contribute to the soccer team's success?
Steve Haller: You could go so far as to say he's the reason the 3-5-2 that Coach McIntyre prefers can work as well as it does. With a three-man back line, you need centerbacks that are competent with the ball at their feet as well as solid open field defenders as there's so much space to utilize behind a midfield that's pushed forward. Miles handles those duties as well as being absolutely stalwart in the air. It's gotten to the point where I'm more surprised if he's not the one who gets to a ball served in than I am if he makes an amazing clearance. He's also tied for the team lead in points on the year, with his aerial prowess leading to four goals on the season (to match his four goal season last year).
AP: Ok Kevin, same question for you - How does Justyn Knight contribute to his teams' success?
Kevin Wall: Chris Fox has said that Justyn is the cross-country team's "Carmelo Anthony.” What he has done is elevate the program from a regional power to a National Champion. Since he arrived, I've heard nothing but good things about Justyn as a teammate. He buys into the coaches training and strategy, he's always put the team over his individual accomplishments, and having him as a training partner elevated the performance of Martin Hehir and Colin Bennie. Syracuse can go into any meet knowing that Justyn's going to be able to deliver them a top-5 performance at the top of the line-up.
KW: That's where the difference in terms of sports comes in....we can easily compare Justyn's times/places against former SU folks. Harder to do in a team sport.
SH: Right, if I were to look at the team, Miles is the best athlete, Oyvind Alseth and Liam Callahan are the captains and leaders. Mo Adams as a defensive midfielder may be one of the most important unsung guys on field. The forwards are putting the ball in the back of the net. There's a lot of different facets.
KW: Much easier when you can just say Justyn's the fastest, so that makes him the best.
SH: He runs fast, he wins. He also does other really good stuff. I've got an uphill battle.
KW: No losers in this debate - these two could arguably be the best in their respective sport in SU history. I mean as good as Alex Bono is, he didn't sniff the U.S. National team this early right?
SH: Not as a sophomore, but he got called in to the senior team as soon as he was drafted. Keepers also have a harder time breaking in. Miles is getting U-20 calls and will probably be approached about a Generation Adidas contract this year, but I doubt if he'll be getting senior team calls this year.
AP: On that note, what are the chances Justyn represents the Stars and Stripes? And for Miles, are we looking at another top MLS pick this year?
SH: He's absolutely a top talent (Top four if you ask Ives Galarcep, whose analysis I trust immeasurably), and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him declare. I'll be curious where he lands if he does go, as there isn't much need on defense from the top of the list (MUNFC and ATL notwithstanding) until you get to Orlando as it stands. He's an on-and-off starter for the U-20 USMNT and will be eligible for the U-20 World Cup next year since he doesn't turn 20 until March. If he's good enough to play alongside Cameron Carter-Vickers in that backline, he's good enough for a Top 10 MLS draft pick. It's been a bit of an embarrassment of riches for the Orange lately in that regard.
KW: Well since Justyn's Canadian, he won't be representing the Stars and Stripes. However, he was within a couple of seconds of hitting the Olympic standard this year and earned a 2nd place in the 1500m at the Canadian National meet. I would say that we will see Justyn wearing the Maple Leaf at the 2020 Games. It's possible that he'll meet the Olympic standard in three events (1500m, 5k, and 10k) at that time. Personally I think that Justyn's speed makes the 5k his best event.
AP: No wonder you love him so much you Canadian homer. (Note to all Canadians: I love you please take us in). So let's go down this road since you both admitted this debate is kind of slanted: how do each rank relative to past Syracuse athletes? Kevin, we'll lead with you. We've had a ton of great runners recently, where does Justyn stand relative to those?
KW: Don't worry Canada I will gladly stand on guard for thee here... For the first 1.5 years of his Orange career, I was hesitant to say that Justyn is the best distance runner in Syracuse history, but there is no reason not to say that now. I know it's often difficult to compare eras, but he's taking down school records right and left and he's got more than a year left to go. It's scary to think that Justyn hasn't done his best running in a Syracuse singlet when you look at what he's accomplished.
AP: Steve, I know it's not quite fair to compare different positions, but weighing what Miles does for the system, the position he plays, etc, where would you rank him relative to men's soccer greats?
SH: Being still active and playing centerback, you have to take everything in perspective, but he's the best prospect I've seen at the school in the 3-4 years I've covered them. When you think of the top Syracuse players of all time, it brings to mind some young (Bono/Julian Buescher), others within recent history (Patrice Bernier) and some older (Joe Papaleo). A lot of talent, undoubtedly, but not much defensively (keepers aside). I would have to peg him as the best all around defender I've seen or heard of around the program. Depending on what he does moving forward, he could be in discussion for one of the best of all time to play on the Hill.
AP: High praise for both. So before this goes 2,000 words, let's move to closing arguments. Kevin you have the floor.
KW: No disrespect to Miles, who I think is an outstanding player and deserves more recognition than he receives, but Justyn isn't just the best at SU, he's one of the best in the country. He won his 1st ACC XC title a few weeks back and all that's left for him is a national title. When all is said and done, his accomplishments as a Syracuse runner are going to be very hard to top.
SH: I'm pretty sure getting called up to the U-20 National Team qualifies as one of the best in the country, so I guess Miles has got that tag as well. He may have a more uphill battle for a national title, but he's already got an ACC All-Freshman team nod, an ACC Tournament title, and a College Cup under his belt and he's only a sophomore. Likewise, he's going to go down as one of the best defenders to play with the Orange of all time and probably one of the best to don the kit for the program.
AP: Awesome guys, I'll give the win to....
Well Orange fans, Andy didn’t want to make the call, so who do you think earns the title of best current Syracuse athlete?