Finlay, Loons ready to face Columbus Crew SC

Ethan Finlay would be lying if he said he didn’t have Saturday’s game against Columbus Crew SC stamped on his calendar.

The Minnesota United midfielder spent six years with Columbus before being traded to Minnesota United FC on Aug. 9, 2017. When the Loons faced Columbus Crew in the 2018 regular season finale in Ohio, Finlay had to watch from the stands. He was out with a season-ending knee injury.

He’s more than ready for Saturday night, with 11 games played this season and six starts.

“It’s an important one, I’m playing against a lot of friends that I want to beat pretty darn bad. If I can’t get up for that, then it’s going to be tough to get up for much more,” Finlay said. “We’re ready, we’re prepared and it’s a big opportunity for us.”

Finlay said “there’ll be no love lost” between himself and Columbus when they meet at Allianz Field, but their opponent has gone through plenty of change itself. Columbus has new coaches, new ownership and carries a 5-7-1 record to St. Paul.

They’re just 1-4 on the road this season. Minnesota United has yet to lose at Allianz Field this year, with one win and three draws. The Loons have had sellout crowds at every home game this young season so far.

“We want to keep this run going at home. Just want to make sure we maintain that level of commitment and drive and enthusiasm at home,” Loons coach Adrian Heath said after Friday’s training. “Keep the crowd in the game, which they’ve been terrific. If we do that, I know that we’ve got the plays to cause them problems.”

To keep the home unbeaten streak going, the Loons will have to find a way to get the ball in the net more consistently. Since dropping a 4-3 match at Toronto FC where they had a 3-2 lead late, the Loons have scored just twice in four games.

On the plus side, Minnesota United has a positive goal differential for the season. They’ve scored 19 goals and allowed 18, and their 19 goals ranks fifth in the Western Conference.

“When I look at some of the chances that we’ve had, we went through them this morning. With really good play, we maybe haven’t taken a good percentage of them in the last few home games,” Heath said. “Had we done, the lead would look at lot healthier than it is at present.”

Both the Loons and Columbus Crew SC find themselves in a pivotal position heading into Saturday’s contest. Minnesota United is sixth in the Western Conference with 15 points, but can move ahead of FC Dallas with a victory and three points. It’s still early enough in the season that the third place L.A. Galaxy (22 points) and fourth place Houston Dynamo (20 points) are within reach.

Columbus Crew SC is currently clinging to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 16 points. But the conference is in a much tighter race, with the top seven teams being separated by eight points.

In the West, Los Angeles FC has the Loons point total doubled at 30, and Seattle Sounders FC is at 25 points.

“If we get a nice win tomorrow, that sets us up nicely. But we know it’s not going to be easy as none of the games are in the MLS,” Heath said.

Heath said Friday he didn’t know if defender Romain Metanire will be available Saturday. He was not at training Friday to be with his wife, who is due with a baby any day.

Health also said they’re hoping to work in midfielder Kevin Molino, who is still recovering from a knee injury. He made his first appearance of the season at Toronto on April 19 and got his first start April 24 against L.A. Galaxy.

Heath knows he also needs more from his best players. Darwin Quintero and Angelo Rodriguez have nine of the Loons’ 19 goals this season. Quintero leads the team with 23 shots, and nine shots on goal.

He hasn’t recorded a point in nearly a month, since scoring two goals at Toronto on April 19. That’s a span of 200 minutes, and he’s come off the bench two straight games.

“There’s no doubt that if we’re going to be at our best going forward over the course of a season, then we him to be at his best,” Heath said. “He’s really good at what he does, and we need him to be at his best.”

For Finlay, it’s as much about getting the Loons a big win as it is getting revenge on old teammates. He was the No. 10 selection in the MLS Draft by Columbus in 2012, and led the team in 2014 with 11 goals and seven assists. The next season, he became the second player in Columbus history to get double digits in goals (12) and assists (13). He became an MLS All-Star that season.

“I’ve got plenty of guys I still know out there and I want to be them. I want to beat them at home,” Finlay said.

Saturday night’s game at Allianz Field is the first of three straight at home. The May 24 match against Houston Dynamo ends a stretch of six out of seven games at Allianz Field.