From Salt Lake to South Africa
Some, surely, knew their spots were safe. Others were cautiously confident. But for Robbie Findley, the late hours of May 25 seemed endless. Hours after watching the U.S. fall to the Czech Republic from the bench (he suited up but did not see action), the Real Salt Lake striker was up waiting with the rest of the team to find out his World Cup fate.
“It wasn’t fun waiting around, seeing what the 23-man roster was going to be,” recalled Findley. “To that point, I’d told myself that I’d done all I could do to give myself a chance to make the team, and hopefully it was enough.”
“It was out of my hands after that game.”
To even be in that position seemed a long shot just a few short months ago. With qualifying over, the World Cup draw complete and 2009 coming to a close, Findley had only one cap to his credit—a late-game appearance against Switzerland in October of 2007.
But Findley kept his chin up and concentrated on playing well for his club team in the two years following.
“I just tried to focus on what was going on at that point,” said Findley. “My mindset was that if I was with my club, I’d focus on that, and then depending on how well I played there, other things would present themselves. I just took it one thing at a time, and when the opportunity did come, I had to make the best of it.”
It’s a mentality that proved successful as Findley was one of the more dangerous strikers in Major League Soccer last year with 12 goals in 27 appearances for Real Salt Lake. That output doubled his previous year’s total, the sign of a player coming into his own in a league that has helped produced several national team offensive stalwarts like Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan and Jozy Altidore. It also got him called back into camp for the tail end of World Cup qualifying, and while he didn’t play, the attention of national team staff confirmed that he was doing the right things.
Adding to his plaudits, the Phoenix native carried Real Salt Lake to their first MLS Cup title, first scoring two goals in a first-round, two-leg victory against top-seeded Columbus, and converting a penalty in a shootout against Chicago for the Eastern Conference championship.
That put his team in the MLS Cup where Real Salt Lake defeated the L.A. Galaxy in a penalty shootout, but only after Findley had tied the game at one apiece in the 64th minute. Overcoming the pressure from the spot, Findley calmly converted his kick in the shootout with a blast to the upper left corner.
It was the crowning moment of a career year for Findley and helped him earn appearances in the first three matches of 2010 for the U.S. National Team as well as a spot on the preliminary 30-man roster for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
“It started with my club team, just being successful there,” says Findley. “The championship last year helped. That’s the way I see it, if your team’s successful you’ll get those opportunities with your national team.”
Not content to simply be invited, the fleet-footed forward worked hard in camp to stay in the forefront of head coach Bob Bradley’s mind. Veterans on the team helped to make it an easier transition, letting the striker know that he had earned his way into camp because he could help the squad win.
“You’re there for a reason,” said Findley. “(the coaches) see things in you that potentially could help the team out.”
With a few weeks of hard work ahead, Findley refrained from trying to do too much and simply played as the forward with confidence and conviction, playing for the moment and not worrying about what came before it or what is to come after.
“You want to go into the camp confident and then just do what got you to that point,” says Findley.
So now back to the night of May 25. What does it feel like to learn you’re going to the World Cup after one of the longest nights of your life?
“Relief,” said Findley. “I was relieved. I called my parents, they were extremely happy, my brother and sister. Everyone was just really happy for me.”
But continuing to think in the same mindset that got him here, Findley again sees this not as an honor to be named, but as an opportunity to gain more international experience and exposure in his young professional career.
Looking towards the tournament, Findley acknowledges the privilege but still sees it as an open door for even greater success.
“I feel really blessed,” explained the 24-year old. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity lying ahead.”
That sort of mindset is a positive sign for the U.S. Men’s National Team, for if the recent past is any indication, it’s an opportunity the striker won’t let pass by unheeded.