Stuart Findlay reflects on his first year with the Union and a soccer atmosphere to rival the best he’s seen
Findlay didn't play as much this year as he hoped to, but he delivered in the Eastern Conference final. "This isn’t the MLS everybody thinks it is," he said of the game's raucous atmosphere.
Stuart Findlay didn’t play as much for the Union this year as he figured he would, or as many outsiders figured he would.
Because Jim Curtin didn’t rotate his centerbacks nearly as much this year as he did last year, Findlay played just 486 minutes over nine games, and two of those appearances were last-minute cameos.
Findlay could see what Curtin saw, though: Jakob Glesnes and Jack Elliott were so consistently good that Curtin didn’t want to bench either of them just for the sake of doing so.
Of course, some managers would do it anyway to keep the starters fresh. Findlay gives Curtin credit for giving Findlay an open door to come talk to him, and being clear that Findlay’s lack of playing time wasn’t just the player’s fault.
“Jim was great with me. He never ignored me — anything I wanted to speak to him about, he was happy to speak to me,” Findlay told The Inquirer as he headed into an offseason break in his native Scotland.
“He understands the position that I’m in, and he understands that I’m not over the moon not to be playing,” Findlay said. “But I think you have a check of reality when you realize how good the guys were doing this year. … When your two centerbacks are two of the most consistent performers of the full year, these things happen.”
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But when Glesnes and Elliott were ruled out of the Eastern Conference final because of health protocols, Findlay stepped up. Not only did the 26-year-old Scot play well, he quickly built chemistry with fellow starter Aurélien Collin in the latter’s first major minutes in two years.
“The guy’s maybe only played one minute of football this season, against Saprissa [in the Champions League], but he’s got a wealth of experience this league that no other person on the pitch could claim to have had,” Findlay said. “I’d like to see myself as slightly experienced as well. So if you put two experienced guys together, they’re going to be able to work it out.”
‘This isn’t the gimmicks’
It helped to have the largest crowd in Subaru Park history roaring from start to finish. Findlay called the atmosphere in Chester as vibrant as any he has seen in his career. And he offered some pointed advice to critics on both sides of the Atlantic who believe American soccer isn’t authentic.
“I’d like to think I’ve had the privilege of playing in a lot of good stadiums over the years: I’ve played in FA Cup matches for Newcastle [United] at St. James’s Park, I’ve played in front of 60,000 at Celtic Park, [and] at Ibrox Stadium in Scotland,” he said, referring to one of England’s soccer hothouses and the two sides of Glasgow’s world-famous Old Firm rivalry.
“When we scored — and I know that they scored two minutes after — but when they kicked off after the first goal, the noise that reverberated around the place, I just felt like, ‘This is football,’” he continued. “This isn’t the MLS everybody thinks it is. This isn’t the gimmicks. This is proper, hard-core supporters enjoying football, and that felt amazing. That’s something that this league does not get enough credit for.”
» READ MORE: In their own words, Union fans tell us they ‘couldn’t be more proud’ of the club’s success
Even after the Union conceded the equalizer, the cheers continued, and they didn’t stop until well after the final whistle.
“The reception we got at the end of the game, it was really special,” Findlay said. “I’m just proud that I was able to be on that field and not watching it from the stands. It was good to be able to be on the park, be able to sort of use that atmosphere in trying to put in as good a performance as I could.”
After the game, Findlay posted a message on Twitter thanking fans for their support of him and the team. Though he doesn’t have too many followers yet, the tweet made the rounds and was warmly received.
“I’m not a massive social media user usually, but it was just a moment that I felt it was the right thing to do,” he said. “And I think it was so well received not just because of me and because of what I said. I think everybody felt the emotion of the day.”
Happy to stay here
The Union are the first non-British club that Findlay has played for. That, he says, was part of the appeal of coming to the United States for the first time in his life.
“I came to America because it was a good standard of football; it was a new challenge for me, but a massive part of my decision to come over was for the experiences in life,” he said. “To be able to say that I’ve played in the [Estadio] Azteca; to be able to walk about Mexico and sort of just take the place in; to see Costa Rica; to see cities in America that I’d never dreamed of being able to see … it just leaves me craving more, because every week was something new for me to experience, which I thrive off.”
He admitted he wasn’t sure how things would be away from work. But after settling in King of Prussia, he said he had “the best nine months of my life off the field.”
That included being pleasantly surprised by how much his Glasgwegian fiancée liked being here. Though she wasn’t able to be here for the whole season because of pandemic-related visa restrictions, Findlay said by the end of the year she wanted to stay for the holidays.
“I’ll be honest with you, before we came over she wasn’t very keen — she was a very much a homegirl,” Findlay said. “As soon as we came over, she met a really good network of friends, the other wives and girlfriends in the team. … I think that just speaks volumes about how much the club, how much the city, how much the other players all helped us.”
» READ MORE: Jakob Glesnes signs a contract extension through 2024 as the Union make end-of-year roster decisions
Findlay knows he’s still being followed plenty back home. He saw the report a month ago in Scotland’s Daily Record newspaper — a tabloid well-known for jumping on transfer gossip — that Hibernian, of Edinburgh, was considering a winter move for him.
Invited to address the report, Findlay accepted. He’s still got another guaranteed year on his Union contract, with a team option for 2023. If the Union want to keep him, he’s happy to stay.
“If they want me to go or they want something to happen to me, then I’ll speak to Philadelphia,” he said. “But until then, me as football player, I know I play for [the] Philadelphia Union, and until they tell me otherwise, then that’s who it’s going to be for me.”
And as he said throughout the conversation, if he has proved he deserves more playing time, even better.
“It’s just up to me to hopefully have shown in what I can do that I can be trusted whenever I’m needed,” Findlay said. “If that leads to more games — which I really hope it does — then I need to make sure I take that chance when it comes along.”