COLUMBUS, Ohio - After a scoreless stretch of more than 300 minutes, the Columbus Crew have scored five goals in their last two games. And after starting the season as a fringe player, winger Ethan Finlay has scored two of those five, and burst onto the scene Saturday with a man-of-the-match performance in his first start of 2014 that helped the Crew earn a 2-0 victory over the Chicago Fire on Saturday.
His coach Gregg Berhalter said that while Finlay's performance was huge, it wasn't unexpected.
"He was player of the game, for me," Berhalter said after the match. "He was excellent. But this game isn't something that comes out of the blue. If we look at what he's been doing over these last couple weeks, it's been leading toward a performance like this."
Finlay's quick goal in the 10th minute gave the Crew their earliest lead of the season, and he said it made an impact on the team's attitude.
"It was huge for our team," Finlay said. "Getting the first goal was incredibly important. The last couple of games we've loss or drawn, we were giving up the first goal and losing momentum right away."
For Finlay, the performance was a culmination of an offseason and preseason of clawing his way up the depth chart. And while he admitted that the performance "feels great," he credited the mentality in the locker room and his teammates for his rise to a starting spot.
"It's just a testament to the hard work that I've put in and that this whole team has put in," Finlay said. "We've always pushed each other. All these guys that are battling for positions out wide and up top, we push each other every day in training. We're counting goals every day in training.
It's great, everyone is happy for each other. Whoever scores, we win as a team and lose as a team."
As a coach who always promises that players will be rewarded for their performances, Berhalter said he was happy for Finlay's success for the same reason, and hopes it continues to prove to his team that every spot is up for grabs.
"I'm most happy with the fact that a guy isn't a starter, and he's not in the 18, then he works his way into the 18, then he works his way into the starting lineup and he performs like this," Berhalter said. "You can see the progression, and guys believe that there's a chance. Guys believe that if they work hard and train well and they make an impact in their time as a sub role that they'll get an opportunity."