There are a lot of reasons Real Salt Lake is riding a rare three-game unbeaten streak heading into its game against the expansion San Jose Earthquakes tonight at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Robbie Findley is one of the biggest.
The second-year striker has been tremendous ever since coach Jason Kreis substituted him halfway through RSL's last game against the Earthquakes barely two weeks ago. Findley has scored two goals in that span - including the game-winner in RSL's first-ever victory at Chivas USA last weekend - and shown a renewed zest for punishing opponents with his speed.
"It was always just a matter of time until he really found his rhythm and his flow and his confidence, which I think he had a whole lot of in the preseason," Kreis said. "We're glad that he's got that back."
Findley's sizzling goal against the Earthquakes in the last meeting ignited the team's current streak, which has kept RSL in the thick of the Major League Soccer playoff hunt. Its challenge tonight is to avoid a letdown against the worst team in the league after finally enjoying its big breakthrough on the road.
"We need to be ready to try to jump on them right away," defender Chris Wingert said. "Come out with an aggressive mind-set, and not think that things are just going to take place and happen without us putting the work in."
That nearly happened that last time RSL met the Quakes - even without a preceding victory.
At risk of falling to the bottom of the standings after back-to-back road losses, RSL appeared "miserable" to Kreis in the first half, until Findley came on as a sub for the injured fellow striker Fabian Espindola.
Almost immediately, Findley corralled a wonderful pass on the left side from midfielder Javier Morales, drove at a defender and unleashed a rocket that beat goalkeeper Joe Cannon inside post. The opening goal opened a torrent that turned into a 3-1 victory for RSL.
"I've been at him to get it out at his feet and just run at defenders," striker partner Kenny Deuchar said. "Less touches, just knock it by them and go. . . . His pace is phenomenal, but if he touches the ball too much, then it slows him down. The less he touches the ball, he can just breeze by guys."
Findley always has been a dangerous weapon, having scored six goals in a dozen starts last season after RSL acquired him in a trade with the Los Angeles Galaxy. But he began this season less spectacularly, sharing starting time with Espindola and straining to make the most of his opportunities.
His only goal came in the dying minutes of a 4-0 win over D.C. United, hardly of consequence.
Perhaps that's why he lost his confidence - "I don't know if I was just mentally tired, or what it was," he said - but it doesn't matter now. Now, Findley is in a groove, and likely to get the chance to keep rolling with Espindola still recovering from a knee injury.
"It happens to everybody, you get into little lulls and stuff like that," Findley said. "But it's how you come back from them. You have to keep working hard and keep doing the things that you need to do to get better, and eventually, it will work out for you."
RSL vs. San Jose
RSL is unbeaten in its last three games:
Date Opponent Result
May 31 San Jose W, 3-1
June 7 Kansas City T, 0-0
June 14 at Chivas USA W, 1-0
At Rice-Eccles Stadium
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
Radio: AM-700, AM-1600
Records: RSL 4-5-3, San Jose 3-7-1
Series: RSL leads, 1-0
Last Meeting: RSL 3, San Jose 1 (May 31)