Ryan Finley in action for the Fighting Irish this season. - Matt Cashore
Despite not starting for Notre Dame in 2012 Ryan Finley finds himself as one of the top forwards in this years senior class having filled the net on a regular basis while coming off the bench. He comes with a lot of question marks but his knack for scoring goals is hard to ignore.
Ryan Finley has not started an NCAA game in the past two seasons for Notre Dame yet somehow he still managed to wind up as a MAC Hermann trophy semifinalist. Finley came off the bench for the Fighting Irish 22 times this year and lead their attack with 21 goals in just 1556 minutes of playing time. He ended his senior season in NCAA soccer with a scoring average of over 1.2 goals per 90/minutes which is an impressive rate in a strong conference like the Big East.
Coming off the bench was nothing new for Finley who did the exact same thing as a junior in 2011 as he made all 17 of his appearances as a substitute. His scoring totals were less impressive in 2011 as he only found the back of the net 7 times in what was a largely disappointing season for the Irish.
He was a starter though in his first two seasons of college soccer when he was at Duke. He started 38 out of 39 appearances for the Blue Devils and scored 28 goals during that time. His time at Duke came to a sour end though as he was suspended indefinitely on the eve of the NCAA tournament in his sophomore year for violating team rules. The suspension raised a lot of questions about Finley's future and if it would bring to an end his college playing days but in the end he was able to land on his feet in South Bend.
His two seasons with the Irish will probably come with a bit of disappointment for Finley as the team failed to really deliver on its potential in both 2011 and 2012. Having missed the tournament in 2011 they were hoping to use 2012 as a bounce back year under the leadership of their pair of talents seniors in Finley and Powers (check out my report on Powers for more about the Notre Dame program). They managed to do that over the course of the season and in the Big East tournament. The Irish won the tournament championship and went into the NCAA tournament as the #1 seed but were knocked out in the third round by Indiana in double overtime.
Finley's four years in college have seen him win just about ever award he could outside of a Hermann trophy so far. He was selected to the ACC All-Freshman team in 2009, was named ACC Offensive Player of the Year, All-ACC Team of the Year and All-American third team in 2010, was named to the All Big-East second team in 2011, and was the Big East Offensive Player of the Year and All-Big East First team to go along with his Hermann award nomination in 2012.
It is an impressive haul of honours for any player and he earned them in two of the nation's strongest conferences for soccer. He also brought home a couple of academic awards being named a Big East Academic All-Star in 2011. There is no doubt that he has the kind of resume that is sure to catch the eyes of MLS scouts.
Finley finishes his college career with 55 goals in 79 appearances adding 14 assists during that time. Those are impressive numbers but his senior year is by far the most impressive of his four campaigns. If his 17 goals as a sophomore at Duke put him on the radar to turn pro them his 21 goals this year should be what seal his place as a first round selecting. He was not just doing his scoring in blowouts either as he contributed a number of key goals for the Irish this season including six game winning goal, two of which were golden goals scored in overtime. His biggest goal of the year came when he scored the golden goal that handed Notre Dame a 3-1 double overtime victory over Georgetown and the Big East tournament title.
He finished the 2012 campaign as the nations second leading scoring with his 21 goals (behind only Chris Thomas of Elon) and was third in goals per game with 0.95 (behind Thomas and Canadian Daniel Haber of Cornell). His 21 goals is also the 5th highest single season total in Notre Dame history. His conversion rate this season was also impressive as he scored those 21 goals with just 96 total shots which works out to him scoring on nearly 22% of his shots taken. Four of his goals did come from the penalty spot where he was a perfect 4-4 this season but his total of 17 goals from open play is impressive and still quite efficient with the chance he got.
Finley was so efficient this season thanks to him making the most of a combination of his size (6-0, 180 pounds) and having a bit more speed than you might expect from a forward his size. He showed that he was capable of fighting off his man when needed but that he was also quick enough to create that little bit of separation that he needed to create a scoring chance. Once he got that little bit of space he found the back of the net more times than not with some very good finishing.
The numbers are impressive but there are certainly knocks remaining about the standout forward. The first big question is whether a team is willing to take a chance on drafting a player in the first round who was coming off the bench in college. His numbers suggest that he would have done just as well had he been a starter but it is a bit odd that he was only coming off the bench. That role as a sub will certainly throw up a few red flags for scouts but his scoring totals in a tough conference should be enough to erase those concerns.
What might be harder to erase with any numbers is the concerns about off field and personality issues. There are a lot of questions remaining about what led to him being dismissed from the Duke program at such a crucial time of the season. His found success at Notre Dame and things seemed to be going well for him there but MLS teams will certainly still have some concerns that he will need to address any time he sits down for an interview with a club.
It all adds up to Finley being a bit of an unknown quantity heading into the draft. He has the talent to be one of the top forwards available in the draft class but the questions surrounding him could see him slip down boards. He seems like the kind of player who has the talent to go early but may instead wind up being a late first round pick and end up being an impact substitute for one of the top clubs, a role that he is already quite familiar with.
It would be absolutely stunning if TFC decided to give Finley any kind of serious look at first overall as even without the question marks surrounding him he is not likely to be the top forward in the draft. The likes of Eriq Zavaleta, Chris Thomas, and Patrick Mullins should all be considered better attacking prospects. Finley would be the kind of player I would be seriously hoping to have slip to you in the second round but Toronto does not have a second pick until the Supplemental Draft and Finley will almost certainly not be around then.
Finley has the resume; a former US youth international, a college stud, and an eye for goal to make him a top 10 pick in the 2013 SuperDraft but it will be up to him to convince a team that the red flags that remain around him will not hold him back from being successful at the next level. If he can do that a team might just get themselves a very talented goal scorer late in the first round or even the second round.