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Ethan Finlay's Impressive Rise From Bench to Game Winner

Ethan Finlay began the season outside of the Crew's plans, but has worked his way into the starting lineup through his work.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

At the conclusion of Wednesday's practice, as the Columbus Crew players made their way off the field, Ethan Finlay hit a shot from well left of the 18-yard box that bent into the opposite side corner of the goal.

"Damn, he is on fire," Hector Jimenez said from the sideline where he watched the shot.

That has been the way things have gone for Finlay recently. As a substitute in the Crew's road game against the Portland Timbers, Finlay scored his first MLS goal just a minute after entering. Three days later, Finlay struck just four minutes into the friendly match against the Dayton Dutch Lions.

His recent performances earned him his first start of the season on Saturday against the Chicago Fire. He justified head coach Gregg Berhalter's faith in him just 10 minutes into the match, bagging his third goal - second in MLS - in a week's time.

Things have not always come so easy for Finlay. Before this season, the 23-year had only started six games and had registered no goals and no assists in two previous years after being draft 10th overall out of Creighton.

Heading into this season, Finlay was hardly on Berhalter's radar. In fact, it took some eye-catching performances in preseason for the head coach to begin to consider the third-year player.

"If you go back to Orlando and Disney, he scored a couple of great goals against Orlando City and then against Indy 11 he scored another goal," Berhalter said.

"So he's always shown these flashes. I think now it's come to a point where he's understanding how we play a lot better and he also has all those other things which makes a weapon."

For Finlay, it was just about doing the right things to show his new head coach his capability.

"It was a big year coming in my third year," he said. "You want to impress with a new coach, new owner, things were going to be different. I think it was a process.

"I wasn't playing in the 18 in preseason. It's preseason so everyone is trying to learn the system. I didn't read too much into that. I just tried to maintain my focus on what Gregg wanted the outside midfielders to do and specifically me and use some of the qualities that I have that can change a game."

From preseason to regular season, Finlay made strides and the coaching staff took note. The winger made his first appearance coming off the bench in the 73rd minute in the 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders and became a fairly regular second half option for the Black and Gold.

Berhalter has not stopped raving about Finlay's bottom-to-the-top transition of late and credits the player for putting in the work necessary.

"I'm just happy the way it's developed within him," Berhalter said.

"He's taken it on himself. For everything he is now, it's because of him because of how he's been working."

Finlay though credits the attacking coaches he's worked with, helping to raise his game on each level.

"During those four [college] years, I worked with a guy, Johnny Torres who was a great goal scorer at Creighton," Finlay said.

"And now coming here and working with [Josh Wolff], it's been fantastic for me to be honest. I'm very fortunate to work with some great strikers with great movement and I've learned a lot. A lot of the things I've done, I've learned from these guys specifically."

A month ago, Finlay talked of his desire for that first goal of his professional career. Now that he's found the back of the net twice, Finlay's confidence is high.

"It has [been a boost of confidence]," he said.

"I think finishing when you get the opportunity is always very important and it's something we had struggled with the six weeks prior. To have a good week like this, hopefully it becomes contagious for guys on the team going forward."

Berhalter has seen Finlay's confidence, but said it's about relaxing and not trying to do too much when he's on the field.

It has been easier to relax recently for Finlay as he has become a significant contributor for Columbus. After scoring the goal that resulted in a tie at Portland, Finlay scored the game winner against the Fire to give the Crew their first win in eight games.

If the Black and Gold are going to turn one win in to multiple and begin and new streak, there is a very good chance the player once lost on the bench will be a key contributor.