It was the 71st minute at MAPFRE Stadium on Tuesday night, when U.S. Men’s National Team Coach Jurgen Klinsmann finally answered the calls echoing from the Nordecke across the pitch. Crew SC and USMNT supporters had been calling for Ethan Finlay to make an appearance at his home stadium in the FIFA World Cup qualifier vs. Guatemala.
Finlay stepped onto the pitch to overwhelming applause and seemed to soak up all of that energy. The midfielder immediately made his presence felt. He took his speed down the right wing, causing problems for the shaky Guatemalan defense that had already conceded three goals on the night.
In the 85th minute, Finlay added a fourth after he picked up a Jozy Altidore pass, curved around Guatemala goalkeeper Paulo Motta and buried the ball into the far corner.
Or so everybody thought.
As Finlay slid towards the Nordecke in celebration, the goal was called offside. It was the wrong call, and the only disappointment on an otherwise perfect night for both the U.S. and Finlay.
“The dream was a goal,” Finlay said after the match. “I thought I did [score]. As you see, I didn’t turn around once. I was pretty confident I was on. But it’s definitely a moment I’ll always remember. I had a moment today actually in the shower thinking about it, that I was going to get in this game and score a goal tonight. I was off by just a little bit I guess.”
Well, Finlay was on and the referee was the one off by just a little bit. But Finlay did not seek any blame afterwards.
“You know what, the referee makes the call and you have to respect it,” he said. “They don’t make ‘em all perfectly and it’s unfortunate. The first one will have to wait.”
If Tuesday’s match is any indication, Finlay will get another shot at his first goal for the USMNT. The midfielder delivered his best performance yet in his third cap for the Stars and Stripes. He became only the fifth active player in Crew SC history to wear the Red, White and Blue at MAPFRE Stadium.
“It was special, it really was,” Finlay said about hearing his name called by Crew SC and USMNT supporters alike. “I look back four years from now, they didn’t know my name. It’s cool to have the moments that I’ve had in this stadium, and this is just another one.”
The other Crew SC player to make an appearance Tuesday night was Rodrigo Saravia. The Guatemalan midfielder became the first international player on Crew SC’s roster to represent his country at MAPFRE Stadium. For Finlay, it was a special thing to share the night with Saravia.
“Rodrigo has done a tremendous job for that team,” he said. “He was great for them in that last game. We wanted to make it tough for them obviously tonight. But it was definitely a special moment for him and a moment he’ll always remember. He should be very proud of himself.”
The U.S. certainly made it tough for Guatemala, just four days after losing to Los Chapines on their turf. Pushed by a raucous crowd at MAPFRE Stadium, the USMNT dominated the match and extended its unbeaten streak in Columbus to 11 matches (eight wins, three draws).
“It was fantastic, from the warmup to the first whistle to the end of the game,” Finlay said about the U.S. supporters. “They were in it until the end. This is a special place for U.S. Soccer and it proved it again tonight.”
Finlay hopes the convincing win over Guatemala will provide momentum for the remainder of World Cup qualifying as well as Copa America this summer.
“We’ve been in these moments throughout qualification in the last 20 years. It’s what happens,” he said. “When our backs are up against the wall, we seem to answer the call. Tonight was no different and it’s a real positive step going into Copa America.”