By Patrick Finley
Reprinted from Arizona Daily Star Sports, June 17, 2008
As the No. 2 goalkeeper for FC Kaiserslautern in Germany, the Sierra Vista Buena High School graduate is becoming a celebrity. That figures to only grow after Robles - who began as a fourth-stringer - starts the soccer club’s first two games in August while his teammate serves a suspension.
Fans take pictures of Robles - and his teammates - and then get them autographed. Some of the photos are weird, like the one of Robles and a friend eating ice cream at a cafe.
"When I started signing these pictures of me walking in the street or me taking a bite of something, I thought, ’That’s kinda weird,’ " he said. "The fans, they’re really passionate, which is cool. But they’re borderline over-the-top as well."
Robles is far more anonymous back home, where he helped conduct Arizona Pro Soccer’s camp at Salpointe Catholic High School on Monday.
How he got there: After starring in goal for the University of Portland, Robles eschewed Major League Soccer - where he was drafted in the fourth round by D.C. United - to play overseas. He flew to Germany in 2006 to work out for German clubs, but decided on the first day to train to "get the jet lag off." He played with FC Kaiserslautern, close to his agent’s house.
The legendary club liked him.
"A week later, I signed," said Robles, who also starred for Tucson Soccer Academy as a youth.
The 24-year-old Robles - who spent almost the first five years of his life in Stuttgart - has become what Arizona Pro Soccer director Wolfgang Weber calls one of most accomplished players in Southern Arizona history.
"I think it’s way up there," Weber said. "From the standpoint of breaking into the professional ranks and doing it in Europe, from Tucson he’s the only one. To my knowledge, he’s the (only) one to go a real, legitimate, professional club."
Growing popular: Robles began playing on the club’s reserve team, and then became the No. 4 goalie with the top team.
"Over time, with some little injuries (to others), some inconsistency of play, I’ve moved up to two," he said. "For the last six months, I’ve been No. 2. For the past few months, I’ve been really making a push to start."
With it comes popularity. Robles estimates that 300 to 400 fans come out to watch practice.
"You’ll have a dozen people waiting by your car that want pictures or autographs," he said. "It’s kinda fun. It’s not anything close to the crazy paparazzi stuff that (David) Beckham gets, but that can be annoying."
Adjusting to the game: The German style of play was difficult to get acclimated to, Robles said.
"When I first got there, adjusting was tough," he said. "They’re just so much smarter. They’re bred with soccer education that’s beyond what we’re teaching now in America.
"I feel that Americans are better athletes, but (Germans) are natural soccer players. They read it to the point where they don’t necessarily have to be the most athletic. They’re already a step ahead.
"The speed of play is so much quicker. It really took me about three or four months to really get used to it. It was very frustrating at points where I was so upset with myself. I definitely felt overwhelmed."
And off the field, too: Robles considers it "one of those fortunate blessings in my journey" that he plays in Kaiserslautern - which is near Ramstein Air Base.
Street signs are in English, catering to American military members. Robles plays golf with officers. He goes to English-language movies - the last one he saw was "Iron Man" - and occasionally to a bowling alley.
For his first year, Robles didn’t learn to speak German - he didn’t have to. Now, his new coach insists that foreigners learn the language.
"I didn’t know there was such a large American contingent out there," he said. "A lot of Americans go overseas. Whether it’s culture shock, feeling isolated or having that prejudice that originally comes up when you’re a foreigner that’s found on most squads, it’s been difficult.
"I’ve been very fortunate to go to a situation where there are a lot of Americans."
Robles tries to avoid German food, and credits the lack of fast-food restaurants for a better physique. His team has its own personal chef.
"I miss Mexican food and Chinese food," he laughed.