MLS In Focus: Columbus’ Ethan Finlay

Ethan

Quick, without looking it up: who has the most assists in Major League Soccer this season? Kaka? Nope. Sebastian Giovinco? Shockingly, no. The answer to the question isn’t even a designated player.

On Wednesday night, Ethan Finlay of the Columbus Crew picked up his 11th assist of the year. That gives him two more than anyone else in MLS. And it’s more than just a hot start. Over the last season and a half, Finlay has 16 goals and 18 assists in 49 matches.

At 24, Finlay has broken out as one of the most dangerous players in MLS, but he hasn’t necessarily gotten noticed as a result. Columbus’ match Sunday against Chicago will be the first time this season that they’ve been featured on ESPN or Fox’s national broadcasts. When fans made their picks for the MLS All-Star Game, no one from the Crew was in the XI. That’s a shame, because Finlay and the Crew are exciting to watch.


 

EFA

This was Finlay’s assist on Wednesday night. I said he “picked it up,” but that doesn’t quite do justice to his effort here. After his pass to Wil Trapp, he makes a 40-yard run down the right wing to be there for the next pass, then covers another 40 yards with two touches of the ball. He slows down to let his teammates get into the box, then puts in a perfect cross for Kamara.

EFC

His assist was a superlative example of the genre, but this is what Finlay does. He flies down the right wing and sends in crosses. Above, note how Finlay is already on the run before Tchani even gets his head up. Finlay sees space and knows he needs to be in it.

EFC2

Kei Kamara leads the league in goals with 13, and Finlay has assisted on six of those. It’s in Columbus’ nature that Kamara’s return wasn’t as high-profile as other offseason signings, but he was exactly what they needed.

EFG2

In 2014, the Crew lacked a true center forward, and its midfielders had to pick up the goal-scoring slack. Finlay scored 11 to lead the team. That’s a respectable total for someone who plays his position. But consider that Kamara has already eclipsed that mark. The addition of Kamara has made goals like this more rare in 2015, with Finlay providing more assists instead. But the ability is clearly still there.

EFG3

Whether he is scoring or assisting, it’s the intelligence of Finlay’s runs that makes him a threat. Above, he is already playing off Kemar Lawrence’s back shoulder before the pass to Kamara is played, and thinking that extra step ahead is the difference in this goal.


Continued play like this is generally accompanied by certain questions. Will he make a move to Europe? When will the national team take notice? I can’t answer the first question. But one national team already has taken notice of Finlay: the Canadian one.

Finlay was born and raised in the U.S., but his dad is a Canadian citizen. For FIFA eligibility, what matters is whether his father was born in Canada. Given that Canada claims he is not eligible for the team currently, it’s likely that he never will be. Finlay would have to live continuously for five years in Canada to gain eligibility now.

If you watched Canada at the Gold Cup, you know that they could use a player like Finlay. It’s no wonder they reached out to him. But I think Finlay has shown enough to deserve a look from the U.S. as well. He would be a valuable addition to a USMNT right flank that has been a bit of a mess of late.

Despite some of his rhetoric, Jurgen Klinsmann has shown a willingness to reward those who perform in MLS with call-ups to the national team. Since the World Cup, we’ve seen names like Lee Nguyen and Perry Kitchen make appearances on USMNT squads. But Finlay was never a part of the U.S. youth system, and hasn’t yet gotten attention from the senior team.

If he keeps playing like this, he shouldn’t have to wait much longer to receive that attention.