Rookie Finlay adapting to life at Crew's hexed fullback spot

OBETZ, Ohio – Ethan Finlay, who is wearing No. 13 in his rookie season for the Columbus Crew, is not the superstitious type.

So it was without trepidation – and the fact that any minutes are good minutes for a young player struggling to get on the field – that he played briefly against Stoke City on Tuesday at the Crew’s latest “cursed” position. 

The Crew's left back spot took another hit in the international friendly when Nemanja Vukovic strained ligaments in his left ankle, putting him out for about four weeks, according to head coach Robert Warzycha.

Vukovic entered the match after starter Josh Williams exited with a stiff back. Williams was playing that spot because Bernardo Añor, the second-year converted midfielder, suffered a season-ending knee injury July 14 against Sporting Kansas City.

Thus, Finlay got the call against Stoke City before finishing the 2-1 victory at right back.  

“I played [right back] Sunday in a reserve game so based on injuries I thought that’s where I might end up,” Finlay said.

It’s not what the Crew envisioned when they made the former Creighton star their first pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. All 12 of his appearances, including three starts, have been either at forward or in midfield.

“I still feel the coaches have confidence in me at those positions,” Finlay said. “The coaches didn’t say it to me, but I was the first guy off the bench [for midfielder Dilly Duka] on Saturday,” he said of Columbus' 1-0 win over D.C. United in their most recent league match.

Warzycha said it’s important for young players not to get discouraged when they are asked to do something out of the norm.

“You’re not playing because coaches don’t have confidence in you,” he said. “It’s because someone else is playing better at that position. It’s as simple as that. You’re a good player but somebody’s played better. Sometimes you play a position other than what we drafted you for, but you’re helping the team. They appreciate that and so do we.”

Fortunately for the Crew, it appears Williams will be healthy for Saturday’s match at Sporting Kansas City (8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online). 

But then again, it has been a rough year for the back line so anything is possible. The center back position was hit hard earlier with Rich Balchan, Julius James, Chad Marshall, Carlos Mendes and Danny O’Rourke all injured at some point.

Most will be available for selection Saturday, however, so Warzycha could use Mendes or Eric Gehrig as backups for Williams before possibly turning to Finlay at left back.

“Obviously I hope to be higher on the field, but I’ll play where needed,” Finlay said.