Minnesota United veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay whooped and yelped a profane exclamation in an Allianz Field corridor after Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Columbus that denied that he had played just another game.
Meeting his former team for the first time since it traded him here in August 2017, Finlay scored the only goal in the 70th minute of a game — and a goal — that meant everything.
“After everything I’ve been through the last 12 months, it’s a big relief,” he said.
Finlay waited more than two years to score his first goal for a Columbus team that drafted him in 2012. On Saturday, he waited 70 minutes more for his first goal this season, his first on the road back from knee surgery that repaired a torn ACL early last season.
Finlay’s one-timed shot into an open goal won United its second game at new Allianz Field and kept it undefeated (2-0-3) in its first five games there. United outscored opponents 3-1 in its past four home games and owns shutouts in three of those.
“I’m a big believer that sometimes you get what you deserve,” United coach Adrian Heath said. “I always say to players you get out of football and life what you put in, and there’s nobody put more into the last year than Ethan. It’s a long road when you have an ACL. I thought it was quite apt that he got the goal.”
On Saturday, United outdid Columbus 19-4 in total shots and didn’t allow a shot on goal all night for the first time in three MLS seasons. It scored two first-half goals that were wiped away because star Darwin Quintero was ruled offside on both.
But United prevailed after Finlay finished off a scoring sequence in which defenders Romain Metanire and Brent Kallman did the heavy lifting. Columbus now has lost seven of its past eight games after starting the season 4-1-1.
Metanire’s curving, angled ball from the right side after a short corner kick reached Kallman at the back post, and he dived far enough to redirect it back across the goalmouth and into play.
“I was just trying to put it back where it came from,” Kallman said. “I can’t honestly say I was trying to pass it.”
Finlay was there at the right side and swiped the ball out of the air and into an open goal.
United possessed the ball more than 56% of the time in the second half, but it was Columbus that had the half’s best, legal chance when star midfielder Federico Higuain’s counterattack and blast from outside the 18-yard box eluded diving United goalkeeper Vito Mannone but hit the left post and bounced away.
United controlled a first half that ended scoreless nonetheless.
United captain Ozzie Alonso asked Finlay to address the team in the huddle just before opening kick. He told his teammates the game was not about him but about “us,” a United family that added two new members in 48 hours when Metanire and Bobby Shuttleworth welcomed babies into the world.
Finlay played six seasons in Columbus and became an All-Star and one of MLS’ Best XI in a 2015 season when the Crew reached the MLS Cup. He played 87 minutes Saturday before he subbed out.
He called the game and his goal “storybook” afterward.
“I was able to play against one of my best friends, Hector Jimenez, and I just wanted to eat his lunch, seriously,” Finlay said. “There was plenty of trash talk between the two of us. Once we get going, you have to perform. That was my goal, not to get too caught up in faces and colors I was playing against.”
Instead, Finlay said he simply “settled in” and played his game up and down the right side in a reconfigured starting lineup that brought back Quintero and played without injured Ike Opara.
“I couldn’t have written it any better,” Kallman said. “Former team, coming off an ACL, first goal. Ethan works crazy hard, too, so he got the reward for it. I’m really happy for him.”