BRISTOL, Conn. – If there were ever a case for the immeasurable international value of speed, it’s Robbie Findley’s surprise travel plans to South Africa.
The Real Salt Lake forward has been on the outside looking in on the US national team since 2007. He has just three caps since then, lacking the power or punch of Conor Casey, the veteran savvy of Brian Ching or even the dynamic upside of a healthy Eddie Johnson.
But Findley—yes, that Robbie Findley—is the last man standing. In arguably the most surprising move of an otherwise predictable day of roster cuts, Findley’s World Cup run continued on Wednesday, while other potential suitors were left on the fringe where most expected the RSL star to land with a thud.
Findley’s trump card in all this? He offers a dimension largely missing with front line options like Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle or Herculez Gomez, and the US coaching staff appears in this case to appreciate a player’s individual attributes perhaps rather than the sum of his parts.
“We’re looking for almost niches—soccer niches within the group,” assistant coach Jesse Marsch said. “With some of those spots on the roster, you create a scenario where you might need a guy, and then it’s about what we might need from a guy in those games.”
Findley’s niche since his debut with Real Salt Lake in 2007 has been no mystery. Though the lacks the polish of some of those he vanquished to get here, Findley heads to South Africa as the fastest true forward on the roster after injury cost the U.S. squad a healthy Charlie Davies.
“The reason I’m here is speed,” Findley said. “I can be dangerous and affective in the attacking half, and defensively I work hard all over. The hard work I’ve been putting in over the years is paying off.”
Though his call to include Findley and pass on Ching or Johnson was easily the most hotly-debated decision of the day, Bradley stood by his move to keep a player who failed to crack the lineup in any of the US team’s World Cup qualifiers.
"We feel that Robbie still brings something special, especially as a reserve," Bradley said. "His speed when he comes into a match, his willingness to try and run behind a defense; we felt that those are things that when we looked at everything our team had, we could still use some of those qualities."
Bradley’s sure-footed approval certainly wasn’t as clear on Tuesday night. Findley dressed but didn’t play in the team’s 4-2 loss to the Czech Republic, signifying to most familiar with the team that he was headed back to RSL.
Why even include him on the 30-man roster if he wouldn’t play in the team’s one-off tryout?
“I didn’t know what to think,” Findley said. “I was in between somewhere, because I didn’t know if it meant I was going home or going on.”
Few did. But it turns out that the Findley decision – opting to keep a largely untested one-dimensional player over Ching and Johnson with 40-plus caps each – may have been made in part back in March, when Findley started and played 62 minutes in the Americans’ international friendly against the Netherlands in Amsterdam.
“We felt like we had a good feel for where Robbie was, including the earlier games this year and most recently Holland,” Bradley said. “That’s really how we handled that part of it.”
Findley is one of just four active MLS players on the roster, but that stat belies the real odds against him making the club. Landon Donovan has been a regular since he was a teenager, Chivas USA’s Jonathan Bornstein has been a fixture on the back line since 2007, and Buddle is arguably the hottest player in the league.
“We work hard in the [United States],” Findley said. “I think any success we have is well deserved.”