SANDY, Utah — In their last two playoff games, Real Salt Lake has had a whole lot of unexpected goals. Goals scored by players who haven't exactly been scoring machines.
In Salt Lake’s 2-0 win over Los Angeles on Nov. 7, the goals came from midfielder Sebastian Velasquez, who had never scored an MLS goal before; and defender Chris Schuler, who had only scored twice before — and both those goals were in 2011.
In a 4-2 win over Portland on Nov. 10, Schuler scored again; rookie striker Devon Sandoval got his first playoff goal (and fourth overall); and midfielder Javier Morales did something he couldn't recall ever doing before — he scored on a header off a corner kick.
“Off a corner kick?” he said to reporters with a laugh. “I think that was my first time.”
But among the bigger surprises in the past two games has been the play of forward Robbie Findley. After bedeviling the Galaxy, he broke through against the Timbers with a goal and an assist.
“I’m just trying to cause problems for the defense,” he told reporters. “Just go out there and try and make it easier on my teammates.... I’m just trying to be effective and make things happen up there.”
That hasn't happened a whole lot since 2009, when he scored a dozen goals — including RSL's only score in regulation against L.A. in the MLS Cup final — and had four assists. Findley's production fell of dramatically in 2010; he spent 2011-12 with Nottingham Forest in the English Championship and English League Two side Gillingham.
Ironically, RSL re-acquired Findley from Portland before the 2013 season, sending the Timbers allocation money.
After returning to Salt Lake in 2013, Findley had six goals and two assists in 25 appearances as he consistently battled injuries.
“I feel like he's had some spells this year where he's gotten to start looking really good, and the picked up some injures,” RSL Coach Jason Kreis told reporters.
Those injuries have hampered his play, along with some just plain bad luck. After working his way back into the starting lineup for a match against Dallas on Oct. 5, he was subbed out when RSL's Abdoulie Mansally was shown a straight red card.
Kreis said Findley was “looking really eager. Chomping at the bit for his opportunity. And then we get an ejection in the first 20 minutes and now he's out.”
But his performance in the playoffs has been a glimpse of the “old” Robbie Findley.
“This is the time of year when players like Robbie Findley typically step up,” Kreis said, somewhat prophetically, before the 4-2 win over Portland. “He's a guy who scored huge goals for us in the past — 2009 — and we're hopeful for the same thing this year.”
If he can avoid injuries. In the win over Portland, he was subbed out in the 66th minute after “landing on my back kind of weird” while scoring the goal that gave the Claret-and-Cobalt the lead in the 41st minute.
“It was bothering me a little bit. It tightened up. Just landed on it so maybe a bruise or something. But I’ll be alright.”
With a two-week break before the second leg of the Western Conference final in Portland on Nov. 24, Findley said he's certain he will “be ready for that game.”