Ethan Finlay is more than a speedy midfielder for Columbus’ Major League Soccer team. He is more than a goal-scorer, an assist machine, a crowd-pleaser and a hybrid of the Energizer bunny and Roadrunner. His professionalism extends beyond the playing field in the comforts of MAPFRE Stadium and his dedication to improvement doesn’t focus solely on his soccer skills. Ethan Finlay is devoted to community service as a board member of the Crew SC Foundation.
“It’s kind of funny,” Finlay says with slight smile. “In this role, I’ve been able to probably do more than I do when I wear the jersey on a Saturday night. I feel like I’ve seen more smiles when I’m out and about on a weekday in plain old street clothes, showing up for an event like today.”
Finlay is at Soccer for Success, an afterschool program that uses soccer as a tool to combat children’s health issues and juvenile delinquency made possible by both the Crew SC Foundation and the U.S. Soccer Foundation. It’s hosted on a new Black & Gold futsal mini-pitch, unveiled on May 25 this year in Linden Park. Finlay is there to help coach the kids, shed some soccer knowledge and just add some joy to their day.
“Soccer for Success is just one example,” he says. “Obviously, the Linden McKinley High School Soccer Team this year was a great example of the impact that we’re able to make, not only on individual, young men in this community, but in a community of Linden and their high school and hopefully beyond.
“It means a lot; it really does. This is our backyard. We’re right across the freeway and I think Linden is an extremely important community to the Crew SC Foundation, to the club and I think there’s going to be other parts of this city that we want to touch in the coming years.”
Developing fields in Columbus has been a large focus for the Foundation and it has already proven to have an impact over the years. In 2014, a field at Huy Roak Park was constructed and dedicated to Medina Middle School. A few classes have since graduated and begun attending Linden McKinley High School, where the Foundation fostered the school’s first soccer program in more than 10 years this summer.
Their season of firsts has been an eye-opening experience for not only the students and coaches, but for Finlay as well.
“Just sitting on the bench with some of these young men and talking to them about their life experiences—whether it’s what’s going on in their personal life today, or what’s going on in their school, what are the positives or negatives—just being an ear sometimes and maybe giving them a little bit of guidance here and there,” he says. “It’s kind of funny, you want them to sit there and focus on the game, but if they want to tell you something that means something to them that happened in their day that they’re excited about, you just tend to listen.”
Whether he’s listening to aspiring young soccer players, or to fellow board members in a meeting, the 26-year-old MLS All-Star’s impact is felt and he has aligned his goals with the Crew SC Foundation.
“Our goal, as a Foundation, is to somehow, someday have one of these kids that grows up playing on one of these fields—maybe it’s their first soccer field—to transition to play on their first professional field, and that’s at MAPFRE Stadium,” he says. “That’s our long-term goal and our hopes and dreams, that we have a Homegrown kid that comes from right here, from the community, from the fields that we created for them, to hopefully don the colors of Black & Gold for us someday.”
Through five seasons with Crew SC, Finlay has become accustomed to volunteering his time off the pitch to Columbus’ communities. A model for his teammates, he encourages them to follow suit and see this as an opportunity to give back to supporters.
“They do have pride in our team, and they might be at home, sitting watching games and maybe they’ve never made it to the stadium, for whatever reason, but you can have an impact on them,” he says. “You mean something to them. Again, it’s about viewing it, to me, as a duty. This is something that is part of the job of being a professional athlete and specifically of this club. I think giving back to our community is essential to our success off the field.”
Finlay developed the perspective of community service as a responsibility through his parents, especially his father, who he describes as an “exceptional role model” for him.
“Service is obviously a choice and I kind of grew up in it wasn’t really a choice,” he says. “It was an obligation; it was a duty. […] It’s not for everyone, but I think if you put an effort into it, you can make such an impact on people’s lives beyond what you can even imagine.”
With the foundation of a fervor for service built by his parents, Finlay has flourished in his role on the Crew SC Foundation. Preparing for his third season serving on the board, the young midfielder has bright ideas and offers the perspective of a player—a viewpoint that encompasses the considerations of the entire team.
“Obviously as a player we have a direct impact on kids and development of soccer all over this community and we have a good heartbeat for it,” he says. “So to have a player’s point of view, I think is extremely important to the board. It allows them to keep their message focused on what is most important, not only to our community, but even to the players and this club. So, it’s been a learning experience for me because I think I’ve learned a lot about myself. I think I’ve learned a lot about the impact that we can make on and off the field.”
As Finlay continues to make an impact in Columbus, you can help make a difference as well. Donate to the Crew SC Foundation today, on Giving Tuesday.