BLAINE, Minn. – After the 4-0 home defeat at the hands of the Seattle Sounders on Aug. 5, Minnesota United took last Wednesday through Sunday off to lick their wounds. When they reconvened on Monday, a fresh face joined them by lining up on the wing: 2015 MLS Best XI honoree Ethan Finlay.
“I was able to say the goodbyes that I needed to,” Finlay told MLSsoccer.com after Tuesday’s training session. “It was nice the way it worked out. Going to the facility that I’ve gone to for six years was a bit of a tough one for me. I was close with a couple of guys there – Hector Jimenez, Wil Trapp, Justin Meram, Josh Williams.
"I had some good years with those guys and the whole team. It changes over the years as guys move in and out, and it just happened to be me this time.”
While he may have bid farewell to a former home, Finlay is now entering familiar territory. Born in the port city of Duluth, Minnesota, and having grown up in next door Wisconsin, Finlay is somewhat accustomed to his new surroundings. That should help ease his transition, though he is already more than happy with his situation with his new club.
“My family would come here all the time for the holidays. I spent a good amount of time in this area growing up," said Finlay. "I was just talking with my uncle the other day about how we didn’t really come downtown all that often. It’s such a lively city. I remember when the Metrodome was there, and now they have the new stadium in that area.
"I’d heard a lot about the city, and now getting to see it is doing that justice.”
Acquired for a combination of allocation money and salary relief that came out to $425,000, Finlay is suddenly joining the second team of his professional career while it is in a rough patch. The Loons closed out an important stretch of five consecutive home matches in July and August by earning just four points at TCF Bank Stadium.
The acquisition of Finlay marks a signal of intent by Lagos and the entire Minnesota braintrust to get competitive – both now and down the road. Still, the club was somewhat surprised to see that Columbus were willing to part with the veteran winger.
“You know, they’ve changed the shape, which they’ve never done since I’ve been here," said Minnesota head coach Adrian Heath. "Gregg [Berhalter] has played the 4-2-3-1, and Ethan has been the one on the right, coming in the hole, running in behind people. They gradually morphed into something else, and I get that, because a bit like the [New York] Red Bulls have done this year, you know, nobody thought they would have gotten rid of Dax [McCarty].
"Occasionally, you have to move a piece on that you probably wouldn’t want to, to change things around. I don’t know whichever way they’re going, but I’m just delighted that we managed to get him here.”
Whatever the case, Finlay will look to link up quickly with an established attacking fleet that features the likes of Christian Ramirez, Kevin Molino and Miguel Ibarra. Like the bird their nickname stems from, the Loons know they might only be able to fly as far as their wings take them and Heath is hoping that Finlay can help them finally begin to soar.
“With Kevin Molino playing the 10, things are going to go through him,” Finlay said. “I’m trying to get what he likes to do and understand his little movements and how he likes to one-two touch and move off the ball. I saw him do that a lot with Kaká before in Orlando, and he’s continued to do that here.
"I haven’t seen too much of Christian Ramirez this week, but Miguel Ibarra and several other guys have done well. We’re in a pretty good spot with the attacking pieces we have right now.”