Ethan Finlay is widely considered one of the best wingers in Major League Soccer, and the Columbus Crew star is now tasked with taking that reputation and replicating it on the international level.
Following a 12-goal, 13-assist season for the Columbus Crew, Finlay has been called in to the U.S. Men’s National Team for the first time for the team’s annual January camp. Designed as a gathering of domestic-based players, the annual camp offers head coach Jurgen Klinsmann a closer look at new faces while giving players a chance to maintain fitness ahead of a grueling club campaign.
The current camp is no different, and Finlay is among the players that could see action in the team’s upcoming friendlies. Offering dynamic play from the wing, Finlay’s game fills a major need for the USMNT following a lackluster 2015.
Yet, before Finlay concerns himself about taking on Iceland or Canada, the Columbus Crew winger is hoping to stake his claim in a camp littered with fellow USMNT hopefuls looking to push their way into the senior setup.
“It’s been great. The first week, you’re trying to settle in and get your feet wet in this whole thing,” Finlay said. “What’s been great is that the guys have been very comforting. It’s also a mix of some young guys and some older guys, which I think has made it a little bit easier to get acquainted with people. The coaching staff has been fantastic from the start. The level is higher and the expectations are higher, but I’m just hoping to continue to work hard and see what happens down the road.”
For Finlay, who is also eligible to represent Canada, the road to the USMNT has been a process several years in the making.
Drafted 10th overall in the 2012 MLS Draft, Finlay emerged as a super sub in his first two seasons before finally cracking the Crew lineup in 2014. A breakout year followed with 11 goals and seven assists, but Finlay truly emerged in 2015 en route to an MLS Cup finals appearance for the surging Crew.
“I think as the season went on, as we kind of got into September or October, some of the talk started heating up a little bit,” Finlay said. “I started to realize that it’s a real possibility and I felt a lot of it depended on how I did with my club throughout the playoffs. Fortunately for us, we were able to make it quite far and I hoped that would help me and propel me to this level and, ultimately, it has.
“It was a great season with Columbus Crew SC. Individually, I had a lot of success. Coming off an All-Star Game and a Best XI season, I’m really excited to have this opportunity and to be here. Soccer is all about having your ups and downs mentally, and you can’t get too high or too low, so I’m just taking everything in stride.”
Making Finlay’s transition to the USMNT just a bit easier is the presence of two familiar faces in Crew teammates Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani. A veteran of both the USMNT and U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team, Trapp has made sure to welcome both Finlay and Tchani, neither of whom has appeared for the U.S. at any level.
With that being said, Finlay admits that he feels comfortable in his new situation, despite feeling the pressure of representing his country of birth.
Playing for the USMNT, Finlay says, represents a whole new type of challenge, but it is one that the Columbus Crew winger is ready to meet head on as he looks to make the jump to international contributor.
“It’s just a little bit of my personality. You have to become comfortable to play well,” Finlay said. “You don’t want to walk on eggshells, so I’m just trying to settle in. I’m a guy that likes to goof around a little bit, but I always like to compete. I want to come out here and be the best, whether it’s in a possession drill, 5-v-2 or just a passing drill. You always you to be sharp. I want to keep that free spirit as I go into training. It relaxes me. It’s pretty easy. It’s a good group of guys. They’re laid back, but when we have to get to work, we get to work.
“You see how much more important consistency is everyday,” he added. “Whether it be a two-a-day or just a single session, being consistent and being alert, it’s that much more demanding at this level. The sessions, obviously everyone is a little better coming from the club level to this level and you just have to be aware of that. The speed of play is always going to be higher, so it’s something you have to get used to, but it’s making me a better player and that’s what’s good.”