By FRANCO PANIZO
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The second day of the MLS Combine was the first day for Ethan Finlay, who had arrived to the Sunshine State on Saturday. He had missed the first day of the event on Friday to attend the Hermann Trophy Award ceremony in St. Louis, Missouri.
He did not win the award, but what he did do following the ceremony was fly to Florida to put together one of the best performances ever seen at an MLS Combine game.
Just a day removed from a hectic schedule that included a 5:30am flight to Florida, Finlay scored a hat-trick in his first 31 minutes of combine action, leading adiPure (white) to a 4-2 victory over Prime (green).
The goals were not of the simple, tap-in variety. Finlay demonstrated his quickness and scoring prowess with three well-taken goals, including the final one which came on a chipped effort from close range after the Creighton forward outraced his defender to the ball.
"It was a great result for the team and a good day for myself," said Finlay, who scored 43 goals during his time at Creighton. "It was nice to come out and get the legs moving after not playing some good soccer probably in at least a month now. It was fun, it was good to get out there. We had great chemistry between all four of us up there, so it was a fun day."
Initially deployed on the right side of a 4-3-3 formation, Finlay interchanged with fellow front line players Sam Garza and Luke Holmes. That caused lots of headaches for Prime's defense, especially left back Chris Estridge, who simply could not contain Finlay.
The 5-foot-9, 160-pound Finlay opened the scoring in the 14th minute when he got on the end of a pass from Garza, took a right-footed touch away from Estridge and blasted home a left-footed effort.
Following a goal from Holmes, Finlay gave adiPure a 3-0 lead in the 19th minute. The Creighton forward, who scored 43 goals during his four-year stay with the school (14 in his senior season), hit a left-footed volley into the back of the net after Garza's shot had been saved by goalkeeper Jhojan Obando.
Finaly capped his performance with a composed finish from a tight angle following a pass from Holmes in the 31st.
"Just the movement. We clicked right away," said Finlay of the trio of forward's success. "I talked to Sam before the game and I love how he plays, and Luke, I hadn't really seen him play too much but his movement off the ball (was good). For me, I started out on the right, then I'd be on the left, then you're playing on top, so the movement was what made it so difficult for us to cover today."
Finlay's outing was impressive, especially because he had not participated in the first day of the combine due to him attending the Hermann award ceremony. Finlay was named the runner-up for it, finishing ahead of North Carolina's Billy Schuler but behind Duke's Andrew Wenger.
"It was just absolute class. The Missouri Athletic Club does a great job," said Finlay. "I was just really, honestly, proud to be one of the finalists and be apart of that event. When I found out I was a runner-up, deep in my mind I was thinking 'How far away I away from first?' But Andrew is a deserving guy and he's going to do great things for MLS and the national team."
Even though Finlay did not win, the day was still an eventful one. Not only did the Marshfield, Wisconsin native have to deal with the emotions that come with being involved in the Hermann race, but he had to fight off sleep deprivation and catch an early-morning, 1,200 mile flight to Florida that was anything but convenient.
"It was busy. I ended with the Hermann stuff at about 11:45 (at night) by the time I was talking to with all these people and I literally just passed out in bed. I was exhausted," said Finlay, following his three-goal performance on Sunday. "I got on the flight at 5:45. I had to call a cab at 3:45 in the morning, and I got here at about noon, 12:30. Had a little bit of a delay in Atlanta, so it was a long time and I got a nice nap in.
"I was very lucky that we had the day off yesterday, so I pretty much slept most of the afternoon. It's been nice. The food has actually been good, I was kind of happy about that. We've had some good, nutritious food to keep me energized. It's been good, and I'm glad that day one went well for me."