Focused Findley trying to turn potential into results
Seattle's famous rain had abated, but the Qwest Field turf remained wet and slick as Real Salt Lake forward Robbie Findley readied for a penalty kick that would eventually help secure the 2009 MLS Cup.
Not that it mattered. Despite the weather, the pressure of the moment and the sound of 46,000 boisterous fans, Findley was an island.
"I was really calm and collected," said the Real Salt Lake forward, harking back to the Major League Soccer championship game against the Los Angeles Galaxy. "I kept telling myself I was going to make it. I picked my spot out and made sure I was going to put it there.
"I was able to block out everything and do what I needed to do."
Since joining RSL, Findley's focus has been to transform his vast potential, which includes blinding speed, into results.
It is an opponent's nightmare when Findley turns toward goal with the ball at his feet and yards of space to run.
"You can't teach pace," RSL midfielder Will Johnson said. "Every year he gets better and better."
From the start, Findley has had a nose for the goal. He scored in his second MLS game for Los Angeles. During his debut for RSL, Findley put two into the net as the team won its first game of the season.
Expectations have been high the moment Findley entered the league from Oregon State as the 16th overall pick in the 2007 MLS SuperDraft.
Despite a few missteps along the way, Findley had prepared himself well for that successful penalty kick in Seattle, as well as the game-tying goal in the 64th minute, when he poached a loose ball in front of the L.A. goal.
"It was really hard to believe," Findley said. "Weeks after it happened, it was hard to believe. I look at the replays of the penalty kicks, us celebrating. It's just amazing."
The performance was fitting because Findley came to RSL in a trade with Los Angeles in 2007. It is arguably the most important transaction in RSL's short history.
"I believe in my heart he can be one of the best forwards this country has ever seen," said RSL coach Jason Kreis, once a premier MLS forward and one of the league's all-time scoring leaders. "But he's still a long ways from that. He's got a lot of steps to take to get there."
With 12 goals in 2009 -- and an invitation to play with the national team -- the world, in soccer terms, is at Findley's feet.
Yet he is still young. Findley turns 25 in August.
"Things are good, I'll say that," said Findley as he and the team prepare to defend the MLS Cup. "I don't know what will happen next. I can't tell what is in the future. I take it day by day."
Mostly, the days between winning the MLS Cup and the RSL season opener Saturday at San Jose have been a blur. In January, following a brief vacation with friends and family, Findley joined the national team camp, training with the likes of Landon Donovan. But his performance, including a start against Holland, has been mixed, putting a World Cup spot in jeopardy.
"I really didn't know how it would go," he said. "I try to focus on things I can control, working hard and trying to get better. I'm still learning."
There have been more good moments than not. In the final match of 2009, Findley, already RSL's all-time leading scorer, secured the team's playoff spot with two goals against Colorado.
In the first leg of the MLS playoffs, Findley's late goal against defending champion Columbus gave RSL a 1-0 aggregate series lead.
Then came a return win at Columbus, then Chicago and, at the end, against Los Angeles. All the while, Findley, a spiritual person who embraces his Catholic upbringing, continued to add detail to what became a tattoo of Jesus Christ on his right forearm.
"To me, God has made all of this possible," he said. "I have him to thank for what I have. It's a good feeling."
Findley enters his fourth professional season with a clear vision of what he wants to be and how to get there. The main theme is hard work.
Findley turns praise into motivation. None of his focus and drive is lost on his teammates.
"This kid has a ton of potential," RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. "He's good right now. To see where he's going to be, it's going to be something special."
» Findley was traded to Real Salt Lake in deal that sent Chris Klein to Los Angeles.
» Findley's 20th goal for RSL, on Aug. 8, 2009, pushed him past Jeff Cunningham as the team's all-time leading scorer.
» On Oct. 9, 2007, Findley received his first call up to the U.S. National team.