Real Salt Lake online exclusive: Robbie Findley's journey back to RSL
Findley's highlight season came in 2009, when he started 18 matches and scored 12 goals for Real Salt Lake. He was a key in Real's unexpected playoff run and MLS cup glory. In the final game between the L.A. Galaxy and Real Salt Lake, Findley put away a second half game-tying goal. This would be enough to send the game to a shootout in which Real came out on top.
“We were hot at the time,” Findley said, remembering the dream underdog playoff run. “Everybody was firing and willing to do whatever it took to get to the end, to hold that trophy up. A lot of people didn't think we could do it, but a lot of the guys here knew we could.”
Findley spent two months away from RSL during the following season when he was called up to compete for the U.S. in the FIFA World Cup. Despite the honor just to be competing in a game of that stature, Findley considers it one of the hardest trials in his life.
The United States lost 2-1 to Ghana in the Round of 16 after getting down early and fighting to claw their way back. Findley said he left every ounce of effort he had on the field, but still felt as if he had missed opportunities. He said he beat himself up for awhile, but had to learn how to move on.
Findley recognizes the importance of understanding the mental portion of soccer as well as the physical game. For years he worked with sports psychologists to toughen his mind and claims it “does wonders."
“Lots of times, that's what can win and lose a game,” Findley said. “If you're mentally strong and you get through that little barrier, mistakes don't happen as often. It could determine the outcome of a game, I think.”
Mental strength has always been a part of Findley's game, and he said doing mental exercises helps immensely with eliminating distractions.
“I've always been good at being able to block certain things out when it comes down to playing, distractions,” Findley said.
His mental strength also helped him as he adjusted to play in England, which proved to be the hardest transition he ever faced.
“When I first stepped onto the field, it seemed like things were going 100 miles an hour,” Findley recounted about his first game with Nottingham Forest. “I think the speed of play was very high, also the system they have over there as far as promotion and relegation plays a lot into how things go during the whole season. You're always fighting for something.”
Although he did not know what to expect heading to England, playing under five coaches over two years was not something he could have predicted. The constant change was difficult, and due to the inconsistency, he never found comfort with his team.
Another bump in the road occurred almost immediately after Findley arrived in Europe. Just a couple days into training, he decided to stay after practice for additional workout and pulled a quad muscle. The injury took him off the field for 12 weeks and made it hard to solidify any kind of a spot early on.
“It happened,” Findley said. “I had to go through the rehab and the things I needed to do to get better, just give myself the best chance I had when I got back to be able to hop in and show people what I'm capable of.”
Findley's awareness of his teammates and his own positioning was key. With such a high speed of play, he was forced to be able to read the game more quickly and to have a better first touch.
While he was playing in matches for Nottingham, Findley saw his game develop faster than it had while playing in the MLS. However, in his final year in England, he was not seeing any playing time on the field and was put on loan to another team for two months.
He said at 27 years old, he felt he needed to be playing in games and keeping up his skill level. This ultimately led to his decision to return to the MLS and Real Salt Lake.
“I prayed about it and spoke to my family and friends just to get some input,” Findley explained. “But, at the end of the day, I had to make the decision. I chose to come back because I know what they're about here.”
Findley's agent contacted Real Salt Lake, which was looking for a speedy forward to replace Fabian Espindola, and arranged a deal for Findley's return.
Findley said he would never take back his time in England. All of his trials and experiences made him more of a leader on and off the field.
“Anything in life, with different phases going on, you learn a lot from different people. Kind of take that on to the next chapter and that's what I've done.”
Whitney O'Bannon is currently a new media sports intern for the Deseret News.
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