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The Daily Tar Heel

Absence of Robinson Won't Go Unnoticed

North Carolina's defensive midfielder is there, though. But with a potent offense and a stingy defense on either side of him, fans tend to lose sight of Robinson.

One minute, he's battling for a head ball, using his 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame to gain leverage against opposing players. The next moment, he is marking the other team's best offensive midfielder.

It's hard to focus on Robinson. His position is more of a supporting role than a show-stopping one.

"I think he kind of connects the defense to the forwards and our midfield," freshman left back David Stokes said. "He's kind of a link between us."

In the championship match of last weekend's ACC tournament, Robinson finally found himself on center stage. Unfortunately, it was because he sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee and had to be helped off the field at Wake Forest's Spry Stadium.

The Tar Heels (19-2) play at home Sunday against William & Mary at

1 p.m. in the first round of the NCAA tournament. But when UNC's starting lineup is announced, Robinson's No. 3 will not be called.

Robinson will miss the match against the Tribe (12-8-2), a team his Tar Heels defeated 2-0 at Fetzer Field on Oct. 4.

"I was trying to turn and hold a guy off, and my knee . I don't know what happened," Robinson said. "I just kind of felt something pop.

"Danny Jackson passed me the ball, and then I went to pass away and I was like, `Holy cow, something's not right.' I felt like my knee just kept popping out of joint any time I put weight on it. It was really, really frustrating."

Freshman Grant Porter moved to the defensive midfielder spot after Robinson went down in the match's 41st minute. Porter played well, and UNC beat Virginia 1-0 in overtime to capture its first ACC tournament title since 1987.

The Tar Heels will need Porter to continue playing well this weekend in order to slow William & Mary.

"Obviously, I would like to have (Robinson) on the field because he's such a presence," UNC coach Elmar Bolowich said. "But we will compensate with Grant Porter, who's technically a very good player. He's a little bit different than Eddie, but I think we can make up what we lack without Eddie."

Robinson said he hopes to be back for a possible second-round match. He sprained the MCL in his right leg in high school and said he was ready to play

2 1/2 weeks later.

Besides, he's come too far to not try to get back on the field for UNC.

Early in his career, Robinson was known for his careless fouls and reckless play. Regardless, he started 32 of 34 matches during the 1996 and 1998 seasons. Robinson red-shirted the 1997 campaign.

But as he continued to play under the tutelage of Bolowich, Robinson's game - and his mentality - changed.

"(Bolowich) played in Germany, and he knows the game better than any coach I've ever had," Robinson said. "He told me constantly, time after time, to just relax. Play smart, play simple. Just relax and things will work out."

Things have worked out. Robinson has started all but two matches this year and played well enough to be named second-team All-ACC earlier this month.

He finally received the attention he deserved. Robinson hopes, though, that he'll get another chance to leave his mark before the season's end.

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"Hopefully, with the trainers we have, I should be back," Robinson said, "assuming we make it to the second round, which I hope we do."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.