Ethan Finlay was all over the place, in a good way, in Minnesota United’s 3-1 season-opening win in Portland.
The third-year Loon kick-started the attack that led to the game’s opening goal from Kevin Molino, sent a beautiful cross into the box for Luis Amarilla to put away and break a 1-1 tie and flicked a nice ball to Molino for his second goal of the night and the late dagger that ensured Minnesota a W.
Even before the ball started finding the back of the net, Finlay was a rare bright spot in an otherwise lackluster first half.
“His energy levels were terrific, but that’s what we know we got with Ethan,” said head coach Adrian Heath after the win.
The energy and effort have always been there with Finlay. The Duluth native was drafted 10th overall in the 2012 SuperDraft by Columbus and found plenty of MLS minutes, notching 15 appearances during his rookie campaign.
It wasn’t until 2014, though, that Finlay broke out with 11 goals and seven assists in 29 appearances.
The Creighton alum continued that upward trajectory in 2015, starting all 34 games for the Crew, scoring 13 goals and adding 14 assists. Finlay earned himself a 2015 All-Star appearance, MLS Best XI honors and a US Men’s National Team call-up in January of 2016.
Finlay then found himself back in his home state, as he was traded from Columbus to Minnesota in August of 2017. During his first few months with the Loons, Finlay started the final 11 games of the year, finding the back of the net three times and adding three assists.
Entering the 2018 season, Finlay was an every day starter once again before an ACL injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season and into 2019 as well.
Once cleared to return to action last season, the 29-year-old midfielder found himself back in the starting 11 once again and brought the same effort and intensity fans were used to seeing. Playing on the right side of Minnesota’s attacking front, Finlay continually found himself in A+ goal-scoring situations. However, whether it was rust, not being back to full strength or a combination of the two, he always seemed to be a half-step off where he needed to be to bury those chances.
Finlay fired off an astounding 36 shots over 33 appearances in 2019, but only 11 ended up between the posts with seven finding the back of the net.
With so many chances created by Finlay last year, Adrian Heath stayed confident in his veteran midfielder, keeping him in the starting 11 for most of the 2020 preseason and the opener in Portland.
It was a decision that paid off, at least for one game. Finlay looked to be back in the form that made him one of the most notable attacking midfielders in the league just a few short years ago. He was aggressive on the counter-attack and proved the ability to make things happen on his own and provided quality service for his teammates, which showed big time in his two assists.
“I think we had some sloppy moments in the first half,” said Finlay of both his own and the team’s performance. “Then we kind of figured it out and started to really settle in and took advantage on the counter-attack…really happy with the start from all phases.”
The choice to stick with Finlay in the right-wing position was heavily criticized by the Minnesota United faithful, especially with designated player Thomas Chacon entering his first full season with the Black & Blue. But, if the man with the Target logo on his chest and No. 19 on his back can continually replicate his performance on Saturday, he will be the piece to help the Loons take their next step toward competing for an MLS Cup