With Sporting Kansas City visiting Allianz Field for the Fourth Round of the U.S. Open Cup, Minnesota United was ready to pounce on an all too familiar foe.
Two goals from midfielder Darwin Quintero and goals from forward Angelo Rodriguez and midfielder Ethan Finlay led the Loons to a 4-1 victory over Sporting KC. A scoreline like that might lead you to the conclusion that the victory was keyed by the attack, but as Chad Feldheimer would say, “Appearances can be deceptive.” The MNUFC frontline of Quintero, Finlay and Rodriguez put in a tireless defensive shift, proficiently pressing the SKC defense high up the field.
Head Coach Adrian Heath praised his team after the victory and noted the importance of the high press. “You have to pick your moments, but once it went to the centerbacks, we'd cut the three midfield players off,” he said. “It was a case of everybody pressing and I thought it worked really well in the first half. We must have pinched so many balls pressing in their half of the field.”
Special mention must be awarded to Ethan Finlay, whose work ethic, desire to press and constant energy spurred the stout defensive performance by the Loons. Finlay played a decisive role in suffocating the possession play of SKC, forcing turnovers that led to dangerous chances for the Minnesota United attack. He could be seen getting tight to SKC defenders, cutting off passing lanes, creating tough angles to play into and snuffing out SKC’s attacking play before it was created. Finlay put his head down and was determined to work for the team, both offensively and defensively.
“We knew they [Sporting KC] were going to play out of the back,” said Finlay. “We felt like there was [going to be] an opportunity [to press them]. We positioned ourselves well on certain set plays where [when the ball] goes out for a goal kick, we can get set and let them play out and then from there try to win it and we’ll be able to create chances higher up the field.”
For a player who has gone through his share of ups and downs in his career — from scoring droughts to double-digit goals and assists to coming back from injury — Finlay is an outstanding role model for young players facing adversity while progressing through the ranks. Through it all, Finlay has maintained an admirable work rate. He is often one of the last players to leave the training ground, staying for extra finishing practice to bolster his game.
Finlay hopes that his energy and work ethic can rub off to some of the rookies in the squad. “[My work ethic] is something I’ve always prided myself on,” he said. “The guys behind me can obviously see my position and see my willingness to run and they’re starting to anticipate versus reacting and I think that’s the key. When you can get guys starting to anticipate somebody else’s movement and where [the ball is] going to go and where the ball is going to be, you’re not reacting and that’s when you can really jump on teams.”