There might be no more loyal soldier on the Union’s roster than Stuart Findlay.
When the Union signed the Scottish centerback before the 2021 season, they were coming off a 2020 campaign in which Jim Curtin’s regular rotations at the position were a key factor in the team winning the Supporters’ Shield.
But after Findlay arrived (and Mark McKenzie departed), Curtin changed course. Jack Elliot and Jakob Glesnes played almost every game. Findlay got on the field just nine times last year. Only five of those appearances were starts, and the first of them didn’t come until the end of June.
This year, it took 11 games for Findlay to make his season debut. When he did, he looked like he barely missed a beat. There were plenty of reasons why the Union lost Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup game at Orlando City, but it was hard to blame Findlay.
It wasn’t just the late goal he scored as the Union tried to mount a comeback. It was a strong performance all over the field: 34-of-38 passing, 6-of-8 duels won, 1 block, 4 clearances, 4 recoveries, and 4 interceptions — including a terrific cutoff of an Orlando breakaway midway through the first half.
“His stock, it was already high but it got higher,” Curtin said after Tuesday’s game. “The coaching staff loves him, we believe in him, his teammates love him, he’s a great kid. And happy for him and his performance tonight.”
Curtin wants to play Findlay more, but his aversion to breaking up a successful starting lineup is even stronger.
“We’re not going to change when we’ve only been beaten once this year” in league play, Curtin said. “He’s a starting-caliber centerback in MLS — he’s tired of hearing me say that, though. I think my relationship with him has been open; it’s been honest. I really respect him as a person and as a player.”
Findlay said he appreciated the compliments.
“Of course it’s nice,” he said. ”I like to pride myself on trying to be the utmost professional, and I can understand circumstances can be tough at times. I understand it’s not what I want, obviously, to not be playing, but I understand I have to be there for the team, I have to be there whenever I’m called upon, and if I’m not professional when I’m not called upon, when it comes to the chances like tonight, I wouldn’t be able to put up performance that I was proud of.”
The 26-year-old from suburban Glasgow even laced in a little humor.
“I think, essentially, a lot of people in the league haven’t actually seen me play,” Findlay said. “I do cover the ground quite well. I think maybe they [Orlando] weren’t expecting it, but when they played the ball, it’s a thing that I pride myself on, that I can sweep up on the counter.”
The thing is, of course, that the league hasn’t seen him play much. His total of 576 minutes on the field in 10 games across two seasons is a pittance. So he had every right to say, as he did, that he “showed what I can do when I do get on the field.”
When will that next happen? It could — and perhaps should — be next week. After Saturday’s battle for first place against the rival New York Red Bulls at Subaru Park (7:30 p.m. ESPN+), the Union will host lowly Inter Miami next Wednesday, then return to the West Coast to play the Portland Timbers the following Sunday night.
When Curtin was asked if those games will open the door for Findlay, he said, “For sure.” We’ll have to wait until then to see if Findlay is allowed to walk through it.