Sandy • The ball zipped to his left foot, and Robbie Findley took a slight turn, opening up his hips ready to rip a right-footed shot. He struck the ball perfectly, it soaring and bending around the outstretched arms of teammate Nick Rimando.
The Real Salt Lake forward drew a few cheers from the brave RSL fans watching a frigid training session leading up to Saturday’s MLS Cup final against Sporting Kansas City. As training concluded, Rimando jogged behind Findley, catching up with him for enough time to quip, “What an amazing shot!”
Findley, whose career has circled back to the Salt Lake Valley after helping RSL win the 2009 MLS Cup, laughed before walking to the tunnel to sign some autographs. And much like 2009, Findley has come on at the right time, scoring goals in the biggest of matches, cementing his spot as the franchise leader in postseason goals scored after scoring twice in the Western Conference final series against Portland.
“I don’t think it’s any coincidence,” said RSL coach Jason Kreis, “because the games are the biggest, and the end of the season is right around the corner.”
And, for some reason, one that Findley can’t quite put a finger on, he seems to always be in the right place at the right time when it matters most. He dealt with several nagging injuries throughout the 2013 season, finishing with six goals in 25 matches played, but having healed up and found his form, Findley is delivering.
“Of course I want to score all throughout the season,” he said. “I love big games in the playoffs. I don’t know what it is. I find myself in good positions. I’m always working hard in every game I go into, so it’s just a mentality that it is the playoffs. That’s why we play for the whole season, is to try and win that cup in the end.”
Findley scored the lone goal in RSL’s 2009 MLS Cup victory, and his back-to-back scoring outputs have him atop the franchise’s postseason goals-scored list with six all time.
But returning to RSL, back to the club and coaching staff that developed him, was the move Findley wanted to make. He wasn’t getting much time at Nottingham Forest. He couldn’t find his way onto the first team after a season, so in 2012, he went on loan to Gillingham FC in southeast England, where he finally got onto the pitch.
“Things happen for a reason,” he said. “I’ll take the positives out of it, really. Glad to be back here and glad to be back in the position where we are.”
Findley looks back on his time in England with a smile. He accomplished what most American soccer players dream of. He adjusted to the lifestyle as a pro overseas, was welcomed by teammates at each club and even figured out British slang.
“It wasn’t too bad,” he said. “I’m glad I did it.”
When his contract with Nottingham Forest was terminated last in January, Findley wanted a way to get back to the States. So he started making inquiries to his former teammates at RSL. General manager Garth Lagerwey said he sorted through the agent side of the negotiations, while Findley told friends and Kreis he wanted back with is old club.
RSL acquired Findley’s rights from Portland — which drafted him in the 2010 MLS Expansion Draft before he left for England, allowing the Timbers his rights if he chose to return to MLS — and he was back in Utah.
“You put your chips together, you work together and you say, ‘All right, this is a good fit,’” Lagerwey explained. “One of the things that Findley brings to the table is, you know he’s going to fit in right from the get-go. There’s going to be no adjustment issue.”
But Findley worked hard to overcome injuries and mental fatigue of playing soccer for nearly 18 months straight, and he’s on the cusp of another championship.
“It was perfect for me,” he said.
Robbie Findley’s return
Real Salt Lake forward
Age • 28
• Remains RSL’s all-time leading postseason scorer with six playoff goals.
• Played in 25 matches in an injury-prone season, while starting in 17.
• Returned to RSL in January after three seasons in England.
• Scored the lone goal in RSL’s 2009 MLS Cup win over L.A. in Seattle.
• Started up top for the U.S. in the 2010 World Cup against England in South Africa.
• Was initially traded to RSL in 2007 for midfielder Chris Klein.
P RSL at Sporting KC
Saturday, 2 p.m.
TV • ESPN