It was about 11pm on the 22nd of last November, in a hotel lobby in Seattle that I got yet another lesson in who Robbie Findley is. About 100 fans, and the same number of RSL staff, players, and their families were gathered embracing the moment, and two things really stuck out to me from that night in that hotel lobby.
The first was the image of Andy Williams with his wife by his side, knowing that she was there against doctors orders, yet both willing to risk it all on what had to be the biggest night of Andy's playing career. The raw emotions of that moment stay with me to this day, and inspire me when I forget that my little troubles are nothing in the bigger picture of life.
The second thing was a young man who had just played a vital part in leading his team to a Championship, and while you could tell the joy he was feeling by the smile that reminded me of the Cheshire Cat, and the look in his eyes. Despite that, despite the crazy celebrations going on around him, there he was with his family, a very large group, finding a way for to order room service so they could have something to eat. Not worried about himself first, but in this moment worried about his family and their comfort, that says something about Robbie Findley. Things like that let you know more about a man than anything that they do while playing a game.
Those sentiments are echoed by Real Salt Lake President Bill Manning when I interviewed him earlier this year said this about Robbie Findley.
"Robbie scored a bunch of goals for us this year but he is a team player. I think there are a lot of intangibles out there that the media has missed, his heart, his willingness to be a team player. He has had a good year, but he has the potential to have a break out year, a lot of things can keep a player from having a break out year, but he has the work ethic, the intangibles, and athleticism to have a break out year and he is an important player for the team."
more after the jump:
So some of you will know this information but for many this will be new, but with Robbie taking on new challenges sometimes understanding what got you there is important. So let's play a game, what do these people have in common? Mike Bibby of the NBA, Shaun McDonald of the NFL, and Eddie House of the NBA , all of them are cousins of Robbie Findley.
Robbie has been a star at every level of his soccer career, in his high school days playing for Shadow Mountain High School in Phoenix, AZ, to his college days at Oregon State, where he was a 3 time All-Pac 10 player 3 times. Before the 2008 Summer Olympic games, Robbie helped the US qualify for the games and played in all 5 of the US qualifying matches in the CONCACAF tournament. In a move that the US coaches probably now question he was moved to the alternates roster before the trip to Bejing.
Robbie was selected number 16 in the 2007 MLS draft by the LA Galaxy, he was their first overall pick. His first MLS start came on April 8th as he came in to replace US Soccer legend Cobi Jones, and scored his first league goal just 4 days later in a match against Chivas USA. After a couple rough years LA was desperate to rebuild their team with more experienced players and new RSL head coach traded Chris Klein to LA for Robbie and Nathan Sturgis, a trade that has worked out well for both sides.
Robbie made a quick impact as he became RSL's top scorer in 2007 with 6 goals, in 2008 he played in all but one of RSL's matches, starting in 15 of them and he again ended the year with 6 goals. Robbie played a minor role in RSL's 2008 run to the Western Conference final, coming off the bench to add support to the team, he registered an assist but began to show RSL fans what he was capable of doing. All of that led up to the 2009 season, and what would be considered by many, to the breakout season for Robbie.
The RSL media guide describes it like this:
No player in Major League Soccer had more of a breakout season in 2009 than Real Salt Lake's Robbie Findley, who doubled his goal haul from the previous regular season with 12 tallies before notching three more times in the playoffs. A strong start in 2009 - which included RSL's first-ever hat trick in MLS play in the team's home opener against Columbus - was followed by consistency issues, but the 24-year-old forward found his groove again towards season's end, his double in RSL's mandatory 3-0 season finale win over Colorado setting the pace for multiple acts of playoff heroism.
I do think that Robbie had a breakout year, but I still think that the best is yet to come with Robbie. He has survived and thrived so far by using his physical abilities, as he learns more about playing at the highest levels (his USMNT exposure will really help with this) and continues to learn at every level that he has all the potential to be a superstar of the sport.
As I have watched Robbie play over the last couple years, I noticed something that could really make him one of the surprise stories of the 2010 World Cup. Robbie plays best when the stakes are high and when the match is on the biggest stages, one only has to look at the MLS Cup run RSL made last year. It was the late goal at Rio Tinto by Robbie that gave RSL the 1-0 win, and then in the return leg he scored the goal that once again gave RSL the lead in the series and eventually would put them into the Eastern Conference final.
Just hours before the scene I described at the start of this post, it was Robbie Findley whose team was down 1-0, whose team had lost Javier Morales (their creative playmaker) before the match was 30 minutes old, whose team lost Will Johnson (the teams high energy, attack every ball guy) at halftime, whose team was facing the Goliath of MLS, but none of that phased Robbie Findley as he evened the match at 1-1, none of that phased Robbie as he stepped to the spot during the PK shootout, and as Robbie Findley etched his name in the memory of many Major League Soccer fans.
Many pundits and commentators were quick to proclaim his arrival during the Turkey match, where he made a couple great plays. Those same people were quick to point fingers when he failed to convert a couple chances against the Aussies just days later. What none of them have told you, or perhaps they simply haven't noticed it yet, in both of those matches the speed and attacking style of Robbie forced the other team to change how they played. It caused both the Turk's and the Aussie's to keep their defenders back instead of pushing so high, that created more room for the US midfielders to move and create chances, and in both cases the end result was US wins. It is this ability that has all long made me think that Robbie Findley would be part of the 2010 USMNT that would be in South Africa, speed kills, but in this case speed changes everything as you have to play the threat. The English would be good to pay attention to that before the match starts, if not it might just come back to bite them in the end.
So there is a good post on US Soccer about Robbie and his journey from Salt Lake to South Africa, take a couple minutes and give it a read.
No matter what happens in South Africa, or if RSL can resign Robbie to a new contract, the scene of him choosing to celebrate what had to be the biggest moment of his playing career with his family and to ensure that their needs were taken care of on a night that was supposed to be about him, lets me know that Robbie's quality off the pitch is as great as his quality on the pitch.
OFF MY SOAPBOX