Sometimes, time is all it takes.
While neither were considered for Major League Soccer's Rookie of the Year award in their respective inaugural campaigns as professionals, former Columbus SuperDraft picks Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram emerged as breakout stars in the Black & Gold attack in 2014. Both saw plenty of playing time early in their careers, but had yet to really flourish in MLS until Gregg Berhalter was named Sporting Director and Head Coach.
Drafted 10th overall in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft out of Creighton University, Finlay was thrown into the fire in Columbus' Opening Match in Colorado that season as Dilly Duka went down with an injury in the 12th minute. Finlay would go on to provide a spark off the bench during the 2012 and 2013 seasons, but luck never seemed to be on the winger's side as he went without a goal or an assist in his first two seasons.
That all changed in 2014.
Less than 60 seconds after entering the Black & Gold's road clash at Portland on May 17, Finlay netted a crucial equalizer to help his side to a 3-3 draw. From there, Finlay would start in 21 of Columbus' 23 remaining matches to become the first American to score 10 goals for the club since 2004. Finding the net wasn't Finlay's only strength, however. The winger also provided seven assists on the season to tie Federico Higuaín for the team lead.
Finlay was rewarded with a contract extension in October 2014 and figures to be an important influence in the Crew SC attack in 2015.
Meram didn't suffer the same luck as Finlay early on, but the 15th overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft never solidified a place in Columbus' starting lineup until the 2014 season. Meram proved he had a flair for the dramatic in his rookie season, assisting on a stoppage-time equalizer at Red Bull Arena. He followed that up in 2012 with highlight reel goals against FC Dallas, San Jose, Seattle and a late winner against Chivas USA.
In 2014, Meram took his game to another level. His "Meat Hook" curling shot became commonplace in Columbus, highlighted by a 94th-minute winner to silence 30,000+ Sounders FC fans in Seattle. Meram ended 2014 with eight goals and four assists, both career highs.
The winger earned his first call-up and cap with the Iraq National Team in November 2014, and looks to feature for the Lions of Mesopotamia in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup this month before returning to Crew SC under a new contract in 2015.
Though every club hopes its SuperDraft selections can make a meaningful impact as rookies, Finlay and Meram have shown patience can be a virtue when it comes to the MLS SuperDraft.