The word "breakout" can be applied in multiple ways to define winger Ethan Finlay's season. On a team and on an individual level, Finlay and the Crew surged beyond expectations to set the table for future success.
While Finlay said that the goal this season was for the Black & Gold to make the Playoffs and that he's happy the club was able to achieve that goal, the next challenge is to cope with raised expectations and expound on the success, on both a team and an individual level.
"What we were able to do over the short timespan that Gregg [Berhalter] and the coaching staff were able to come in was create an identity for ourselves moving forward, and that's extremely important," said Finlay. "The expectations will be that much higher because of the success this year. I think there was a significant amount of success, which is important to note, but there's also a lot of work to do. We'll regroup, reflect on this year and come back better next year."
So what's the next step for the winger on a personal level? How does he continue to improve his game after his stellar 11-goal, seven-assist campaign?
"I've said this for a long time, but continue to be consistent and try to be a game-changer," said Finlay. "There were times later in the season where I think I wasn't quite as effective as I hoped to be. That's something that I kind of identified. Hopefully next year, teams are going to be a little bit more aware of my movement and some of my ability. I won't be able to catch them as surprised as I was this year.
"Being able to continue to adapt and evolve your game – I think I've been able to do that throughout the season, and just continue to do that. I have a lot to learn and I'm looking forward to that."
A sign of his competitive spirit to not be totally content with merely qualifying for the Playoffs, Finlay called the Crew's defeat to the Revolution in the MLS Cup Playoffs a "lost opportunity." Finlay also recalled the Crew's difficult stretch in April and May of 2014 when reminiscing on the season as evidence that the ceiling could have been even higher for the Black & Gold this year.
"We were able to make a run and get third this year, but if you look at some moments early in the season, we could have challenged to be the best team in the East. For 2015, looking forward, we realize that we have to play at a high level and to play at a consistent level throughout the year. Once we do make the Playoffs, [we need to] understand the situation that we're in."
Despite the loss, there's no denying the success that Finlay and the Crew enjoyed. It's nothing but a positive building block as the winger heads into 2015 with his new contract and the pedigree of being a double-digit goalscorer in this League.
"I think what I was most proud of was my ability to persevere through maybe not getting time immediately after the preseason and to stay in it," said Finlay. "On top of that, to then take the opportunity – Gregg and his staff gave me an opportunity to play and I was able to have success and continue to build off it throughout the year. Sometimes that's difficult to do. Sometimes you have a spurt of success.
"Looking back at that game in May in Portland, I was able to continue to get better and better each week that went on, each month. That's what I was most proud of: I continued to learn and continued to adapt. That's something I'll have to continue to do in this League as teams start to figure out the game plan."