Ryan Finley joined Chivas USA as part of a four-team trade in May, coming from the Columbus Crew. Well-regarded in college at Notre Dame, Finley didn't get any run from new Crew coach Gregg Berhalter this year, as he was sent on loan to USL PRO affiliate Dayton Dutch Lions early in the season. Reportedly, it didn't go well, as he was benched at his loan team for having a bad attitude to being assigned to the minor league side.
So going to Chivas USA represented a fresh start for the forward. And since the Goats didn't have a USL PRO affiliate and didn't send any players on loan within the United States this year, he didn't have to worry about getting sent down.
CUSA coach Wilmer Cabrera seemed to really like Finley, as he was used in the majority of the Goats' games after arriving, usually off the bench but with a handful of starts mixed in as well. Finley didn't get a ton of minutes, but he was the first option off the bench among the strikers for most of the season.
The problem? Like all of the forwards not named Erick Torres on the roster, he was simply not productive. He scored two goals all season, across all senior competitions, and the league goal he picked up was a consolation penalty against the Seattle Sounders that he fought with teammate Felix Borja to take, ultimately refusing to relinquish the ball when the Ecuadorian wanted it.
Frankly, I hate when players fight over penalties, mostly because I've seen it go so wrong too much, and because the only players who ought to be fighting over them are those who have shown they can score freely. I know that strikers must be selfish, and showing initiative to want to take the responsibility of penalties can be positive in many coaches' eyes. But it looks petty and desperate, to me anyway. I'm not a coach, though.
Here were Finley's statistics with Chivas USA in 2014:
|Games Played||Games Started||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Shots||SOG||Yellow Cards||Red Cards|
|MLS Regular Season||16||4||437||1||0||13||4||0||0|
|U.S. Open Cup||1||1||77||1||0||1||1||0||0|
As you can see, Finley's other competitive goal came courtesy of the U.S. Open Cup, when he scored a diving header to equalize against the Carolina RailHawks in June. Since he came off the field before the PK shootout, he bears no responsibility for failing at that hurdle, and put in a decent performance to grab that goal to get Chivas back in that game.
After Borja's arrival in August, Finley dropped down the pecking order and found minutes tougher to come by in the final two months, though he did also see three starts in that span, while Cubo was away from the team and suspended. Though Borja didn't get to take the penalty against Seattle, he did look the more polished striker, as he finished the season strong with three goals in the final four games.
But unlike Borja, it's not really assured that Finley is an MLS-caliber striker. He may have been upset he got sent to USL PRO, and indeed, he scored a hat trick for Chivas USA's reserves in a win over USL PRO side Arizona United SC this year. But his ultimate level may just be as a tweener (between leagues), dominant in the second or third division but not quite strong enough in the highest league.
There are, of course, players who have done well in a lower league, gotten plenty of confidence, then made the jump back to MLS successfully. The best example in recent years is Dom Dwyer, who led USL PRO in scoring with Orlando City in 2013 and helped them to the championship, before returning to Sporting Kansas City and breaking the MLS side's season scoring mark this year. And on a lesser scale, Finley's former teammate Aaron Schoenfeld did some time with the Dayton Dutch Lions before coming back to Columbus and getting some minutes (and some goals) late in the season.
Maybe that's what Finley needs, provided he's mentally prepared to do that. He's clearly pretty good, and his work rate is good, but I don't think it's really established that he can really be a regular contributor on an MLS team. Take some time, sign on with an NASL or USL PRO team, and then establish a foothold, put together a strong season. Then maybe MLS will be there for the taking once again.
At the moment, Finley is without an MLS team, as he wasn't selected in the Dispersal Draft earlier this month. He'll be eligible for the Waiver Draft coming up soon, so we'll see if he's taken by an MLS side. If not, he'll be a free agent. Will 2015 be the year he proves the doubters wrong? Stay tuned on that front.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!