The Verde Report: Austin FC Signs Veteran Winger Ethan Finlay
Columbus Crew alum explains why the decision to join ATXFC was an easy one
Following a debut season that fell well below expectations on the field, Austin FC cleared room for several new players to join the club for year two. On Monday, the club revealed the first member of that group of newcomers: veteran winger Ethan Finlay.
Finlay, 31, brings 10 years of MLS experience to Austin, along with 49 career league goals and 42 assists. Though he last played for Minnesota United, his first six seasons were spent with the Columbus Crew under majority owner Anthony Precourt and assistant coach (at the time) Josh Wolff. There, Wolff became something of a mentor figure for Finlay, who was still finding his way as a pro.
"I was an athletic player who had some skill, but sometimes it was running around with my head cut off. [Wolff] identified some of those skills and really had me focusing on how I can make an impact," Finlay told the Chronicle. "I said then to [my Crew teammates] in the locker room, 'This guy is going to be a good head coach someday.' And I still really believe that he will. Tough first season but, you know, Bill Belichick also coached for the Browns at one point in his career."
Finlay is naturally charismatic, comfortable speaking his mind. He holds a leadership role within the MLS Players Association and is a self-described "nerd" when it comes to soccer. He was excited to reconnect with Austin FC head groundskeeper Weston Appelfeller, another old friend from Columbus, to talk field manicuring techniques. He recently became a parent, which factored into his decision to sign with the Verde and Black in free agency.
"I think Austin is a great place to raise a family, so that was an easy box to check. When I looked at the style of play that Austin uses, it fit my profile. Attacking style, really using wingers, natural wingers, inverted at times. It fits all the strengths that I have in my game, a lot of the things that Josh frankly taught me and had me hone in on back in 2014," Finlay said.
Born in the hockey hotbed of Duluth, Minn., Finlay's family moved to North Carolina when he was 5. The sudden dearth of ice and abundance of grass made taking up soccer the logical next step. He became a standout goalscorer at Creighton University and has since carved out a decadelong career as a contributor in MLS.
Finlay primarily plays right wing, which could be a crowded spot for the Oaks this season. Diego Fagundez and Cecilio Domínguez both spent time there during the 2021 season, as did Jared Stroud, who Austin FC signed to a new contract last week after initially declining his team option. One player who won't be in the mix is Round Rock native McKinze Gaines, who was unexpectedly swiped by Charlotte FC as part of last week's MLS Expansion Draft.
Finlay said he has not been given any indication about the size of his role in the squad, which is just how he likes it. He's anxious to compete for minutes and is confident he can still reach his top form.
"Being able to run in behind and break lines has always been my strength. While I'm 31, this last season I was still covering a bunch of ground. I can compare data from my 2014-2015 seasons and I'm right on par with it. So I definitely still have the legs."
He also hopes to ease into a leadership role in the ATX locker room. "I'm not going to come in there and be yelling at guys from day one and telling you this is what you should do. I'm going to have to earn that, earn the respect from the guys around me, the guys who've actually been with the club a little bit longer. And I think if I do that, that'll give me an opportunity to lead this group."