Minnesota United made the playoffs for the first time last year, and their 2020 campaign is off to an excellent start thanks to a 3-1 win at the Portland Timbers on Sunday night.
It was a performance dominated by excellent defense on their part, but it was the counterattacking moves that truly won the game for them and the two architects behind those counters were none other than Ethan Finlay and Kevin Molino.
Both players came to Minnesota in 2017 as cast-offs from their former sides. Finlay had once been a massive part of the Columbus Crew when they won the Eastern Conference in 2015, but saw his playing time decrease after starting every game that season. Molino had a breakout season with Orlando City in 2016, but was deemed surplus to requirements the following winter and he was shipped to the Loons for their first MLS season.
Aside from his first season with the club, Molino hasn’t produced much for Minnesota and Finlay took until last year to see consistent minutes, but they both played the hero on Sunday night, with Molino bagging a pair of goals and Finlay providing two assists.
“It was a great ball from Ethan,” head coach Adrian Heath said about the opening goal, “a really good header down, you know heading it down makes it difficult for the keeper. Pleased for Kev [Kevin Molino] because he’s worked real hard in preseason, trying to get him back into thinking about scoring goals.”
Finlay didn’t get the assist on the opener, but he’s the one who sparked a counterattack early on in the second half when the Timbers had been knocking on the door with consistent pressure. His original ball tried to pick out a streaking Luis Amarilla, but goalkeeper Steve Clark came off his line to get in the way. That’s where Molino, rushing on as the third man in the attack, showed plenty of persistence to knock Clark off the ball before smashing it into the empty net.
Finlay did get the assist on the goal that ultimately won the game for the Loons. Once again, it was Finlay bolting down two-thirds of the pitch on a counter after creating a turnover in his own end. This time, he got near the touchline before playing a perfectly weighted cross to Amarilla’s head for an easy finish.
“His energy levels were terrific but that’s what we know we got with Ethan,” Heath said. “He’s put a bit of quality in for a great bit of movement from Luis [Amarilla], he looks to run in near post, balls off the back shoulder, all the stuff that we were talking about, his movement, and as I say, pleased for him, pleased for Kev and no I’m just pleased for the group.”
Molino deserves much of the credit as well. His stubbornness on a break led to the first goal and he showed some excellent coordination to volley in a floater from Finlay for the third.
“Two and two, two assists for me and two goals for him,” Finlay said about how well he played with Molino. “A great start to our 2020 campaign. So yeah we’re just getting going. Luis [Amarilla] one of 25 in the books here so a really nice night for all the guys along the front line.”
While the two of them created the most highlights, it was tough to pick out which Loon deserved man of the match honors. Molino had his brace and Finlay played a role in all three finishes, but it was truly a team effort. Central defenders Iko Opara and Michael Boxall made one mistake all night long. Luis Amarilla had the winning goal. Jan Gregus and Ozzie Alonso were both excellent in the midfield engine room.
In the end, it’s the big goals that matter, and Molino provided those at crucial times.
“I felt good all preseason,” Molino said. “I put in a lot of work and now it’s the result of the work that I put in through preseason and you know all credit to the team, not just me and Ethan, it was a team performance defensively, midfield and attacking and we’re happy for the win.”