ST. PAUL – During the busiest MLS deadline day in recent memory, Minnesota United FC made a major splash. For the second time this season, the expansion side traded a large sum in exchange for a proven attacker, acquiring Ethan Finlay from Crew SC in exchange for a mix of $425,000 in Targeted and General Allocation Money.
In acquiring the 27-year-old winger, the Loons feel they added a crucial piece of their foundation.
“Getting a player that’s been around the league and is an age where he’s still coming into his prime is incredibly important,” sporting director Manny Lagos told MLSsoccer.com. “As we try to build this core, a player that’s at this time and place in his career was the right move.”
Finlay moves to Minnesota after over five seasons with Columbus. The Minnesota-born, Wisconsin-raised winger was a vital part of the Crew SC attack that made it to MLS Cup 2015, recording 12 goals and 13 assists en route to an MLS Best XI selection. But the club and Finlay both struggled to match that lofty position the last two years, with Finlay tallying just one goal and one assist in 19 appearances this season.
“It was disappointing,” Finlay told MLSsoccer.com over the phone. “We had the talent, obviously there were changes from the run that we had from 2015, but we still played very attractive soccer. In 2014 and 2015, our whole mentality was that we were unappreciated. We were gonna prove them wrong and implement our identity onto other teams. We started to have some poor results in 2016. There was kind of a losing of the identity. When that starts to happen, it’s kind of tough to bring it back in.”
The post-Cup hangover continued into 2017, and Columbus were keen to retool. This summer, they brought in Pedro Santos as their third Designated Player. Considering Santos is a right winger by trade, Finlay started to see a different door opening.
“As the season has gone on, I started to come to realize that maybe a change of scenery would be healthy for myself and for the club,” he said. “It was frustrating for me – not just from a playing time standpoint, but from an individual statistics view and having an influence on the game. Moving to the formation they’re at now doesn’t quite suit me, having to play centrally. Things like that start to add up. The signing of Pedro Santos was probably the final nail in the coffin. You expect your DPs to play in this league, and be a starter. They wanted to go a different route.”
Finlay said he first heard about the potential of a Columbus exit on Tuesday evening, just about 24 hours ahead of the transfer window closing. Between an impending deadline and the increased rates of Allocation Money being traded between clubs, the stakes were high for Minnesota. While the funds trading hands for the rights to Paul Arriola and for Dom Dwyer were larger by comparison, Lagos thinks this move is much more reminiscent to the trade that brought Kevin Molino to Minnesota from Orlando this winter.
“Looking at the Dwyer deal, at the Arriola deal, we’re still in this incredible period of transition in regards to roster building, specifically for Allocation Money as a trade tool,” Lagos said. “The Ethan Finlay deal really came out to $300,000 in the end, when you look at the scope of the whole deal. It represents the value that we see in him and that Columbus had for him. Maybe there was a little bit of a shift [from the Molino deal], but not quite as big as the other deals were.”
While it may not quite be “Dwyer money,” the high price tag puts some added pressure onto Finlay’s shoulders. Hungry to get back in the US men’s national team picture, the return to regular minutes will be a welcome change as he joins Minnesota. Finlay also cited his excitement about the upcoming Allianz Field, opening in 2019, saying he’s “going from the oldest stadium in the country [in Columbus] to helping open the newest.”
Most importantly, he’s ready to shoulder the burden of helping make the Loons a playoff contender.
“I think they’re far ahead of where past expansions were five or ten years ago for many reasons,” he said. “There will be time in the offseason to reflect on the five and a half years in Columbus. Right now, the focus is on trying to make a run, to nip at the heels of some of these Western Conference teams. You never know what can happen in this league.”