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Columbus Crew SC say an emotional goodbye to Ethan Finlay

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Trades are rarely easy, but this one was difficult for a different reason.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC officially announced the trade of midfielder Ethan Finlay to Minnesota United. With this deal comes $100,000 in Targeted Allocation Money for 2017, $250,000 in Targeted Allocation Money for 2018 MLS season and $75,000 in General Allocation Money for 2018.

It also brings an emotional goodbye.

“For me personally, I’m going to miss him,” head coach Gregg Berhalter said following practice on Wednesday. “I think he was a great contribution to our playing style and interpreting our playing style, especially early on with his movement and how he interpreted it by himself. So I can’t say enough about how we’re going to miss Ethan.”

Finlay was drafted by Crew SC with the 10th overall pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. As a young player, Finlay struggled to find his place in the lineup, making only six starts over his first two seasons.

When Berhalter was named head coach ahead of the 2014 season, it was a new lease on life for everyone on the Columbus roster, including Finlay. A 10 minute appearance on the road in Portland was all the winger needed to jumpstart his career.

After scoring against the Timbers, Finlay became a regular in the Black & Gold lineup, starting 21 of the season’s remaining 23 games.

Finlay flourished in 2015, playing alongside Kei Kamara, scoring 12 goals and contributing 13 assists on the way to an MLS Cup Final appearance with Crew SC.

“It’s amazing. That’s what soccer’s about,” Berhalter said of Finlay’s quick rise. “You have a guy who gets an opportunity a quarter of the way through the season and within 16 months he’s in the national team. It’s amazing. He’s an all-star, he’s Best 11. Stuff like that’s what makes soccer so special and that’s what makes coaching so rewarding is that you have stories like that.”

While Finlay’s final two seasons with the Black & Gold did not produce the same on-the-field results, seven goals and 10 assists and in 53 appearances, he continued to work tirelessly to improve his game.

He was an example to the young players on how to come to training every day and was voted to the team’s leadership council to begin 2017. But after the additions of Kekuta Manneh early in the year and Pedro Santos on Tuesday, Finlay, unfortunately, became the odd man out of the Columbus midfield.

“He needs confidence and I don’t think we’re in a position right now to give him confidence,” Berhalter explained. “Obviously with Pedro coming in, he’s going to be contributing and I don’t think (Ethan)’s going to be on the field enough to gain that confidence that he needs.”

Now, Finlay, a Duluth, MN native, gets a chance to move closer to home in a transfer Berhalter said both the club and the player agreed upon.

“What I’ll say is that we both were there,” he said. “We both were in the same place and that made it perfect and we worked on it together, basically.

“Any time the player and the club are in agreement in terms of thinking what’s best for the player, his next step of his career, we were both there with it. And I think that’s what’s great about this deal is that he gets to go to a place where hopefully he can revitalize his career because he’s a great player.”

Professional sports is a business and Major League Soccer is no different. Players come and go; it’s the nature of the beast. But that doesn’t make it easy.

Although a change of scenery may be what’s best for Finlay, it doesn’t make it any easier for those involved in the Crew SC organization to say goodbye.

“You rarely have it that you trade a guy and he’s in here and the whole team’s around him, giving him hugs, wishing him goodbye and he’s saying goodbye,” Berhalter said. “I can’t picture tomorrow without him. He’s been such an important piece of what we’re doing that tomorrow when we have training, he’s not going to be here and it’s going to be strange. He was a huge part of this group.”

For the better part of the last six years, Ethan Finlay has been a fixture for Columbus Crew SC. He began here as a rookie and young player looking to learn the professional game, before becoming a veteran and mentor to the up-and-coming players.

He was a good teammate and a relentless worker, who gave everything he had to the Black & Gold.

For those that worked with him, it’s hard to watch Finlay leave Columbus. But it’s not goodbye, it’s just see you later.

“Trust me, this is one of the harder things I’ve had to do as being a leader of this organization,” Berhalter said. “I think for sure it will affect guys. I think you believe the soccer world is small enough, your pathways will cross again, we’ll see him, he’s in the states. It’s not like we’re never going to hear from Ethan Finlay again. So that makes it easier.”