When Ethan Finlay scored the first goal of Columbus Crew SC’s 2017 season, fans thought the winger might be in for a resurgence after a tough last year. The Columbus attacker would then go 16 more matches before finally recording his second shot on goal for the MLS season during Saturday’s match against Atlanta United.
After scoring in double figures in both 2014 and 2015, Finlay has struggled to find the net over the last two years with six goals in 2016 and one goal so far this season. But, he isn’t letting these struggles get to him.
“There’s only one way and that’s forward,” Finlay said.
Crew SC manager Gregg Berhalter isn’t blind to Finlay’s scoring form and agrees his winger has struggled this season.
“If the guy has his first shot on goal since match day 1, I think it’s normal that it’s not going to flow that easily,” Berhalter said.
Finlay’s contributions to the Black & Gold’s success in 2014 (11 goals, seven assists) and 2015 (12 goals, 13 assists) cannot be understated. During his entire career, Crew SC have only lost one match when the right winger scores. Now in his sixth season with the team, Columbus has 17 wins, one loss, and eight draws in regular season matches when Finlay finds the back of the net. That’s an impressive 1.96 points per game.
Berhalter knows just how valuable his winger is to the team’s success, so much so that he expressed the need to his attacking group before the loss to Atlanta.
“For us to be successful we’re going to need to get Ethan Finlay involved,” he recounted.
The Black & Gold’s manager believes that getting Finlay going “opens up the field more because when you’re worried about something behind you, now you’re going to be dropping and that’s going to make space for the other players, and that’s what we desperately need.”
The Crew SC’s winger agrees: “If the [right side] can start getting more consistent productivity — not that we’re not contributing — we’ll be a tough team. When [Harrison Afful] has played well in the last two years, I’ve played well and vice versa, we are very much working as a group and in tandem our success comes together.”
The question Finlay has to answer is what went wrong in 2016 and the first half of 2017? And he has a few ideas. He told Massive Report that the big differences between 2014/15 and now are the, “timing of the runs and getting impatient,” and “being more opportunistic” like he was over that two-year stretch.
“I think in the past year that the timing has maybe been a little off and I’ve been maybe forcing it in to early or too late,” he said.
To solve these issues, he has spent time reviewing film from 2014 and 2015 and has tried to “get as much time in front of goal as [he] could to see the ball hit the back of the net.” Finlay is confident that “the work [he’s] been putting in on the training field will show for itself.”
Finlay and the rest of Crew SC hope that his close chances against Atlanta were a turning point for this season.
“I thought the runs were fantastic and the movement was great, but we just weren’t able to finish,” he said.
Despite the missed chances against United, Finlay was able to put himself in the right spot and got that first shot on goal in months. Although he wasn’t able to tuck the opportunities home, it could be a sign of growing confidence, which is important for a goal scorer.
Berhalter has already noticed a change in his winger’s confidence.
“In training he’s already scoring goals,” he said. “He’s already getting the confidence back.”
Despite his struggles, Finlay feels the support of his teammates and coach.
“I’ve got great support from my teammates and coaching staff, that’s what makes it easier, and I’ll get there.” With hard work, and “a little bit of luck,” he is confident that “the floodgates will open.”