By THOMAS FLOYD
In Robbie Findley’s mind, this sluggish phase of his once-vibrant career should be cured by a simple dose of consistency.
There sure wasn’t much of that going around during his past two seasons with second-tier English side Nottingham Forest FC. Flipping through five managers in two years will do that. For Findley, the instability eventually amounted to erratic playing time, a loan to fourth-division Gillingham FC and, earlier this month, a mutually terminated contract.
“That’s never too easy,” Findley said. “All I could really do was go to training and perform and do my best because it really was out of my control, what was going on. … If they pick me, they pick me. If they don’t, they don’t.”
In making his return to Real Salt Lake, Findley hopes to recapture his old form. From 2007 to 2010, the striker notched 29 goals for RSL, parlaying his reputation as a speed demon into a spot on the United States’ 2010 World Cup squad. He was most lethal during a breakout 2009 campaign, notching 12 regular-season goals and another three playoff tallies en route to the MLS Cup title.
RSL’s retention of a veteran core, including attacking collaborators Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio, as well as midfield fulcrum Kyle Beckerman, should make Findley’s transition back to MLS all the smoother.
“He’s been gone for two years, but it seems like he’s never been gone,” goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. “I know going over there definitely got him some experience, and hopefully he can bring that back here and be a more mature player.”
As Findley noted, his return to RSL required a certain degree of patience. Because Portland snatched his rights in the 2010 expansion draft, the 27-year-old coped with some uncertainty in recent weeks as the Timbers mulled his trade value.
But it turns out the most fitting offer was one that shipped Findley back to the Rocky Mountains for allocation money, giving coach Jason Kreis a familiar weapon to replace outgoing forward Fabian Espindola, now a member of the New York Red Bulls.
“I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason,” Findley mused. “They way I looked at it, Portland had my rights, and obviously I would have had to go back to them. But if I were to pick a team, it would definitely be RSL, just because I’ve been here before, I know how things work here, I know a lot of the guys — it’s a comfortable environment and a lot easier to settle in and get back to what I know.”
Despite boasting a resume that places him third on RSL’s all-time scoring chart and fifth in assists (13), the Oregon State product enters 2013 with plenty to prove.
Although Findley feels he evolved tactically and “sharpened up a lot of tools” during his time abroad, he bagged just three goals in 24 league appearances for Nottingham Forest. He also failed to find the net in seven games for Gillingham this past fall, struggling to lock down a starting spot.
“The main thing right now,” Findley said, “is me getting games and playing consistently.”
When in form, Findley tends to be a handful for the opposition. Even if his finishing touch is up and down, he can force back lines to respect his pace and clear room for the likes of Morales and Saborio to operate. To an RSL contingent that could be seeing the window of opportunity closing for this accomplished group, having that threat back in the mix is a welcome boost.
“He’s just a forward we can rely on on both sides of the ball,” Rimando said. “He can run down anything, he can stretch the opposing team’s defense with his speed, and he’s just a real honest player. He’s going to get chances — he always gets chances in games. I think this time around, it’s about him finishing them.”
While Findley has just 11 caps and no international goals, the Phoenix native still can put “World Cup starter” on his resume after getting the nod for all three games he was eligible for in the Americans’ run to the round of 16 in South Africa.
The caveat, of course, is that Findley must deal with the harsh reality that in two-and-a-half years, he went from the pinnacle of his sport to coming off the bench in the English fourth division.
Needless to say, the hardship has given him a new appreciation for what it means to wear the national team jersey — and a heightened desire to again sport the red, white and blue after a prolonged absence.
“That’s a lot of motivation really, right there. That’s all I need,” Findley said. “I haven’t spoken to anybody [with U.S. Soccer recently], but I figure if I’m doing my job scoring goals, and my team is successful and getting results, then they can’t do anything but notice it. That’s kind of what I’m focused on.”