2015 MLS Cup
Ethan Finlay on MLS Cup: "I Like How We Match Up"
December 01, 2015
AS PREPARATION for MLS Cup gets underway in Columbus, expectations will be high for the Crew—and for good reason.
The team began the playoffs by defeating a Didier Drogba-led Montreal Impact squad and followed that with an upset of the Supporters’ Shield-winning New York Red Bulls. The only thing left in the club’s way now is the Portland Timbers, which has been one of the hottest teams in MLS over the past two months and nearly flawless on the road.
And Crew winger Ethan Finlay—who has played a big part in Columbus’s success en route to being named to MLS Best XI for the first time in his career—again likes his side’s chances.
“They're a good team,” Finlay told American Soccer Now. “Adi is a handful up top, and obviously Nagbe controls the midfield. We're a team that likes to control the tempo through our midfield. They're the exact same, I believe. They kind of play with wingers, just like we do, with a single forward.
“Saying that, I think I like our matchups,” he continued. “For myself on the right side going against Villafana, I like that matchup. I like Kei against whether it be Ridgewell, Paparatto, or Borchers. On any given day, Pepe can be the best on the field. We'll need him to have a big game.
"I like how we match up against them, for sure.”
The Minnesota-born, Wisconsin-raised Finlay, who scored 12 goals and added 13 assists in a breakout year, says he’s honored to be named to the Best XI but is more focused on the team results. Holding himself to a higher standard now, he admits that was disappointed with his offensive performance in the second leg against New York.
For the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed to win MLS Cup, Finlay will have to be more like his Best XI self.
But that might not be as straightforward as it sounds. Heading into Sunday’s game, Finlay will have played 3,138 minutes this season—over 1,100 more than he played in 2014 and over 2,000 more than he did in 2013. As that wear has piled up, he’s had to fight through fatigue and add different dimensions to his game.
“I've definitely learned,” Finlay said. “What's difficult about late in the season is that it's a lot of games. It's a lot on the body. I've felt that a little bit more this year. It’s the most I've ever played in a season, so it's definitely tough to get your body back and playing at such a high level and high pace—and that's part of my game.
“But I feel like I've done a pretty good job about it. You've just got to keep changing it up. One thing I've learned last year going into this year is that I was going to have to keep making adjustments in games and as you met the same opponent, teams were going to figure you out. Now I feel like I want to continue to get better at making adjustments in the game and being able to change my style of play depending on who I am playing against.”
Portland, the West’s third seed, won the most recent match-up, 2-1, on Sept. 26 in Ohio. Finlay was subbed off in that game in the 65th minute, a relative rarity in a season that’s seen the 25-year-old emerge as a top American player.
There’s been much talk about Finlay, who’s also eligible to represent Canada through his father, getting called up to the U.S. national team. Despite playing a position of need for the U.S., he remains uncapped.
“What I would say is that we have a number of guys that will get chances that have been performing at the MLS level and deserve a chance,” Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter said. “Jurgen Klinsman, he sees that. It's just about the timing of it and bringing them in at the right time. I am sure that we will have guys that will be involved at some stage and get an opportunity to prove themselves.”
On Sunday, Finlay will have a different opportunity, one to write a final chapter in what has been an outstanding 2015.
Few would have expected him to be in this position after his first two years. But Berhalter’s arrival, prior to the start of the 2014 season, has proved a game-changer.
“I think what's Gregg's done is come in and motivate guys, give them confidence to play,” Finlay said. “I think the way I've performed from there has been a lot because of the staff. Gregg has given me confidence, and having guys like [assistant coach] Josh Wolff to work with every day and these guys we've been playing against.
“We've been pushing each other, whether it be at my midfield position or guys up top or in the back. I am still putting myself up against the best in the league. Competition is what brings out the best in people. It did that to me, and I just haven't looked back.”