Robbie Findley provides speed for U.S. soccer team at World Cup

The stage is set. The U.S. has its 23-man World Cup soccer team.
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 16, 2010

IRENE, SOUTH AFRICA -- Famous faces filled the players' tunnel of Rustenburg's Royal Bafokeng Stadium on Saturday night. Forward Robbie Findley, nervously awaiting his U.S. World Cup debut, scanned the row of white-shirted English players and spotted Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole.

"I saw a whole bunch of guys that I have been watching" on TV play in the English Premier League, Findley recalled Tuesday. "I took it all in."

He was thoroughly familiar with them. They undoubtedly wondered about him.

And until a few weeks ago, many of the U.S. team's own supporters were baffled by Findley's presence. He did not make any national team appearances in 2008 or '09 and was on the periphery for World Cup consideration.

But as the tournament neared, Findley's value grew. His commodity: speed.

Findley, 24, is an unrefined player, prone to dodgy touches and incomplete finishes. But because his pace adds a special dimension to the U.S. attack and because he has shown improvement holding the ball and pressuring defenders, he started and played 77 minutes in the 1-1 draw with Group C favorite England.

"I thought it went well," he said of his performance. "I was active, held the ball up. Jozy [Altidore] and I tried to connect on a few plays. We were looking for each other; the chemistry is building there."

With lineup changes possible for Friday's meeting with Slovenia (1-0) at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, Findley might not retain his starting role and instead serve as a possible second-half spark.

Just the fact that Findley, in his fourth MLS season, is on the 23-man World Cup roster and in contention for playing time is astounding. He made his senior national team debut in October 2007 and a year later was an alternate on the under-23 squad that represented the United States at the Beijing Olympics.

Last year, his 12 league goals and three playoff strikes during Real Salt Lake's title run kept him on U.S. Coach Bob Bradley's radar. With World Cup preparations underway early and Bradley in need of front-line speed to help compensate for the loss of Charlie Davies (car accident), Findley was invited to winter training camp. He started in friendlies against Honduras and El Salvador and didn't perform well against the Netherlands.

Nonetheless, he was selected to the preliminary World Cup roster. In order to earn a ticket to South Africa, though, he needed to show that he had more to offer than speed.

"It's still the first thing that catches your eye, but he has learned how to use his speed and is playing at a much higher level now," U.S. midfielder Benny Feilhaber said. "Defenders are aware of him. Even if he is not on the ball, he is making runs and opening it up for other players."

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