Since returning from Nottingham Forest during the offseason, Robbie Findley has received a mixed reaction from Real Salt Lake fans. The 28-year-old has scored six goals from 19 appearances and 14 starts, a return that doesn't quite meet his 2009 impact but already matches the goal return he had from any other previous season for Real Salt Lake.
Notably, Robbie Findley left for England an incomplete player: He was raw, lacking in finesse, and sometimes, he'd simply make the wrong decision. But his speed was the stuff of legend, which was surely the attribute that made him stand out from the crowd. But he had plenty of other attributes that made him a valuable asset for any side - he was and remains a humble player, a hard worker, and a player who wants to improve constantly.
But Nottingham Forest was perhaps not the best place for him. Through his two years there, he went through four managers - something difficult for any player, let alone Findley, who was still finding his feet at the club.
Since returning, Findley's game has adapted somewhat: He's often deployed as a winger, stretching play in the process. His very presence attracts the attention of defenders, pulling defenders into wide positions and opening space for players around him. He doesn't always get a lot of touches of the ball, and sometimes, he misplaces those - like any player - but that doesn't mitigate his impact.
He can be seen bursting back in defense, at times with more impetus than most of the players around him. His speed is an important attribute in this consideration, but his awareness makes it complete.
"You just read the game, you find different spaces and stuff like that," Findley says after a Thursday training session. "That's what it is, and it's something I've learned across the years."
Findley, while certainly improved, is still working to improve, focusing on "trying to make less mistakes and just do better on the field when I get that opportunity in front of goal, and whatever it is my coaching staff calls me to do," he says.
But in a manner not inconsistent with his pre-Forest time at RSL, Robbie Findley takes an inordinate amount of criticism for his play. He's accused of having "no first touch," or being ineffectual in front of goal, or all manner of other criticisms that are often not grounded in reality. But those criticisms don't concern the striker.
"It doesn't matter to me," Findley says. "I know what I'm capable of doing, my teammates believe in me, and I know the people that do believe in me. That's what matters to me."
Jason Kreis, who is adamant that his job isn't to respond to criticisms of his players - a mark of confidence in his ability and faith in the team he selects - remarked on Findley's return.
"I think he's been a contributor to a lot of positive things this year," Kreis says of the striker. "He has six goals on the year, which is second on our team. There's your response."
After all, it was Kreis that engineered the trade for Findley from LA Galaxy, giving up midfielder and friend Chris Klein in the process. He was one of the first forwards Kreis had a chance to really make an impact on as a coach.
Whatever one's opinion of Findley, it surely should be considered that he spent big chunks of the early part of the season with injury concerns limiting his involvement, and that he spent much of the last two years hardly playing. This isn't to excuse any of his struggles, but to understand them — and to recognize that he's done well in spite of the difficulties.