Ethan Finlay was looking for a revamp. So he came back to where it all started.
The Duluth-born Finlay practiced with his new team, Minnesota United, for the first time Monday at the National Sports Center after a deadline-day trade from the Columbus Crew SC last week. The winger cited "personal struggles" on the pitch as a reason he was looking for a change after playing his entire career at Columbus since his 2012 draft.
"When you're not quite getting it done on the field and then opportunities become a little bit sparing," Finlay said. "And with the signing of the new DP there, Pedro Santos, it was clear to me that they were going in a different direction."
Finlay said he had great seasons at Columbus, including 2015 when he started and played every match, scoring 12 goals and making 13 assists for a MLS Best 11 and All-Star year. But this past season had been a struggle. He played in 19 matches with 14 starts and tallied just one goal and assist.
"It's frustrating for both [me and the club]," Finlay said. "I think the play was there, to be honest with you, and I think that's why you had teams like Minnesota and others interested, because they did see the quality there."
Finlay said he met with Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter last Tuesday to discuss a possible move, since there were good offers on the table.
United coach Adrian Heath said he understood how Finlay wasn't quite fitting with Columbus anymore.
"They're evolving as a team. They're moving it around," Heath said. "They've changed the shape at times, which they've never done since I've been here. Gregg's played the 4-2-3-1, and Ethan's been the one on the right coming in the hole, running in behind people. And they're gradually morphing into something else, and I get that."
While Finlay was initially a little hesitant to come to a new team in the middle of a season, United felt like the right fit for him as a player as well as off the field.
"It's exciting times here, and you want to be a part of something like that," Finlay said. "And most importantly, it's a team that wanted me."
Finlay, 27, was born in Duluth but lived in Superior until he was almost 5 years old. His family then moved to North Carolina before returning to the Midwest when Finlay was about 12, settling in Marshfield, Wis. But Finlay said his mother is one of 11 siblings, and four live in the Twin Cities area, so Minnesota was a frequent destination in his childhood.
Soccer-wise, Finlay said he has known United for a while, starting with sporting director Manny Lagos being good friends with Finlay's college coach, Creighton's Johnny Torres. Finlay said he even played United's minor-league predecessor his sophomore year of school.
And as for Heath, Finlay said there was an opportunity during the 2014 preseason to go on loan to Heath's former team, Orlando City SC, that never materialized.
Finlay said he likes the direction the Loons are going, especially with the likes of several of United's "special" players, including center-back Francisco Calvo, midfielder Kevin Molino and forward Christian Ramirez.
"And sometimes, you just need a reboot, a refresher," Finlay said of the move. "I'm reinvigorated."
Fellow new addition winger Jose Leiton will hopefully be in Minnesota by late this week after sorting out his visa paperwork, Heath said. ... Even with the transfer window now closed, Heath said he still has "one or two" possible moves in the works that are just a case of "wait and see." ... Ramirez, center-back Joe Greenspan and defender Thomas de Villardi trained separately on Monday. Heath said Ramirez is day-to-day and not quite pain-free yet from his hamstring injury. Same with Marc Burch, who participated in most of practice but might not be ready in time for Sunday's clash at the Seattle Sounders after recovering from bilateral sports hernia surgery. ... Center-back Brent Kallman left practice early with an apparent injury, but Heath said he didn't know yet the extent of it. ... Midfielders Sam Cronin and Ibson as well as left-back Justin Davis all had shorter practice sessions than the bulk of the team. ... Midfielder Rasmus Schuller still trained separately despite being loaned to a Finnish club last week. ... And Faris Pemi Moumbagna, a 17-year-old who plays at the Soccer Institute at Montverde Academy, trained with United on Tuesday just as a relationship-building endeavor.