[PORTRAIT] He might be the biggest U.S. flop at the World Cup, he might light up the American attack, he might play only a few minutes. Whatever comes his way at the 2010 World Cup, whatever emotional vortexes engulf him, Robbie Findley is unlikely to lose his way. His single-minded concentration to work all aspects of a forward's responsibilities seldom wavers, no matter if the bounce of the ball goes in his favor or not.
“I’m just so excited for him,” says Real Salt Lake teammate and former housemate Kyle Beckerman. “You know, he’s a good guy to have even when he’s not scoring goals. A lot of forwards, if they’re not scoring, that’s it. They had a bad game.
“But Robbie, he makes good runs, he holds the ball up, he lays the ball off, he’s playing defense. He can score goals, sure, but if he’s not, he can still help the team.”
Last year, Findley scored 12 goals during the regular season and five more in the playoffs, including RSL’s equalizer in MLS Cup 2009. That prowess, plus his blistering speed, prompted comparisons to U.S. forward Charlie Davies, whose 2010 World Cup dream ended because of injuries suffered in a horrific auto accident in mid-October.
Findley missed November friendlies against Denmark and Slovakia that conflicted with the MLS playoffs. To get ready for a January training camp that would kick off preparations for the World Cup, he and Beckerman trained during the holidays in Findley’s home town of Phoenix. Beckerman, with 10 caps to his credit, shared insights with Findley about how things work with the national team, for which Findley had played once, for one minute, in 2007, his rookie year in MLS, during which he was traded from Los Angeles to RSL.
Roughly three years after that trade, and with just six caps – and no international goals -- to his name, Findley is one of four forwards on a team handed a daunting Group C opener against England. He may be raw, and still rather young (24), yet there’s speed, tenacity, and a decent MLS scoring record (25 regular-season goals), as well as an athletic pedigree: his extended family includes cousins Mike Bibby (NBA) and Shaun McDonald (NFL).
“He’s been working his tail off to be ready, and it all happened so quickly,” says Beckerman. “Charlie went down right around playoff time. Robbie plays kind of a similar style and is a similar height [5-foot-9]. People start talking that Robbie Findley’s the one who’s going to fill in, blah, blah, blah.
“Then, boom, he gets handed the chance and here’s the World Cup. There’s a lot weighing on him. He’s in a contract year and maybe he goes somewhere else at the end of the season.
Findley started the first three friendlies of 2010, and didn’t score. He tallied just once in eight RSL matches before joining up with the U.S. team for the final preparation camp. When he stayed on the bench for the first of three World Cup warm-up matches against Czech Republic May 25, his chances looked bleak. He didn’t know he’d already made the team, as Bob Bradley announced the following day.
“We feel that Robbie still brings something special, especially as a reserve,” said Bradley, who brought Findley into the next match against Turkey at halftime of what became a 2-1 win. “His speed when he comes into a match, his willingness to try and run behind a defense; we felt that those are things that when we looked at everything our team had, we could still use some of those qualities.”
Said Findley, who came to MLS out of Oregon State as the Galaxy’s second-round pick (No. 16 overall), of his selection, “A lot of hard work has been put into this point and that has to continue. I give a lot of thanks to all the people who have helped me become the player I am today and helped me accomplish the things I have. I'm just very pleased with how this turned out.”
The trade, on June 21, 2007, shook up both teams. The Galaxy traded Findley, and another young player, Nathan Sturgis, to RSL for veteran midfielder Chris Klein. Most teams don’t like to trade young talent, but the Galaxy -- readying for the imminent arrival of David Beckham – wanted more leadership and experience. After scoring two goals in nine games (three starts for LA), Findley hit six in 16 matches with RSL.
Beckerman recalls, “I remember him as a rookie and I couldn’t believe it, I’m thinking, ‘This guy’s a rookie?’ He had a good head on his shoulders. We lived together last year, now he lives just down the street. He’s younger than me but we do a lot of stuff together, we’re buddies.
“We like to fish, and go out to eat a lot, but not too much. We eat anything, there’s a lot of good places around town and we get a lot of variety.”
Dunking the hook and touring Restaurant Row will resume in late June or July, depending on how the U.S. fares. He’s not played a lot with Jozy Altidore, but the possibility he can replicate somewhat the potent Altidore-Davies pairing of last summer’s Confederations Cup is certainly in Bob Bradley’s repertoire of weapons.
“I think Robbie’s confidence has grown every time he steps on the field,” said Altidore. “He feels more comfortable with the guys, feels more like himself, and you can just tell. Each touch he takes on the ball, the way he takes people on now, his swagger’s a little bit different.
“That’s huge for us because he’s a good outlet for us with long balls over the top, but not only that, he tracks back and helps us defend. So I think he’s a real plus.”