The Saint Louis FC social media hashtag is #OneofUs and nobody resonates more with the club’s fans than its captain Sam Fink does.
On June 19, Fink sent those adoring fans into a frenzy when he scored the game-winning goal three minutes into second half stoppage time to help his USL Championship side upset Major League Soccer’s FC Cincinnati, 1-0, in the 2019 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Quarterfinals. In addition to his heroics at the end, he anchored an impressive defensive unit that shut out FC Cincinnati, and held them to just 10 total shots (only two of them on goal).
For that performance, Fink was voted TheCup.us Player of the Round. The award is voted on by TheCup.us staff and a select panel from the North American Soccer Reporters and select backers (those that pledge $10 or more) from TheCup.us’ Patreon team. Fink narrowly edged Minnesota United’s Darwin Quintero (who scored two goals in Minnesota’s comeback win over the Houston Dynamo) and Kevaughn Frater of New Mexico United (who scored a goal to lead the USL Championship side to a 2-1 road win over FC Dallas) also received strong support.
Fink is the first defender to win the award in six years. Back then, Brandon Fricke of the Des Moines Menace (USL League Two) similarly won the award for a late game-winning goal and a shutout upset of Minnesota United FC (NASL) back in the Second Round of the 2013 US Open Cup. By the time the tournament reaches the Round of 16, the tournament is largely dominated by MLS teams, which is why Fink is just the fourth lower division player to win TheCup.us Player of the Round honors in the Fifth Round or later since 2014.
|Lower Division players to win TheCup.us Player of the Round
Round of 16 or later since 2014
|2014 Round 5: Scott Goodwin (Carolina RailHawks, NASL)|
|2017 Round 5: Mitch Hildebrandt (FC Cincinnati, USL)|
|2017 Quarterfinals: Djiby Fall (FC Cincinnati, USL)|
|2019 Round 5: Sam Fink (Saint Louis FC, USL Championship)|
When the club was founded in 2014 Fink was a natural signing, having been raised locally in nearby Edwardsville and played with the St. Louis Scott Gallagher powerhouse youth system. He had a solid college career with Wake Forest before returning home to play for Saint Louis FC.
When he arrived with his hometown team prior to the team’s inaugural 2015 USL season, he was part of an experienced core of defenders with professional experience like MLS stalwart Brandon Barklage (New York Red Bulls, San Jose Earthquakes) and New Zealand international James Musa. It may have appeared, at first, that Fink was just a roster filler. He had to prove everyone wrong.
Fink did just that his first season as a professional as earned a spot in the starting lineup and never missed a game, scoring the game-winner in the club’s first-ever home victory and being voted the fan’s player of the year.
After his second year with the club and cementing his spot in the starting lineup, Fink was released after the 2016 season and signed with the Oklahoma City Energy. He helped the Energy reach the USL Western Conference Final, but he was unable to play in the championship game after suffering a deep eye gash against Reno 1868 in the previous round.
After his one-year stint in Oklahoma City, Fink came home again. He joined Saint Louis FC, who had a new head coach, Ant Pulis, looking for a fresh start.
“I felt I had to get out and really test myself,” said Fink on his 2018 return to Saint Louis FC. “I had to prove I am a quality player in this league and get out of my comfort zone. The spell under Jimmy Neilsen made me a better player. That said, when I first spoke to Ant and heard what type of player he was looking for, I knew I wanted to play for him.”
Under coach Pulis last season, Fink won the prestigious Harry Keough award given to outstanding St Louis talent bestowed by the St. Louis Soccer Hall of Fame. With his form continuing into 2019, Fink has anchored the stoic defense with Phan Kavita and they have been instrumental with the US Open Cup journey that saw them upset FC Cincinnati in the Round of 16.
Fink may be mild mannered off the pitch, but he becomes a warrior on it. Tenacious tackling, pinpoint passing aside, it is his aerial ability that matches up with anyone he comes across. All five of his goals from open play for STLFC have been headers, and with the calm service from Lewis Hilton, who delivered the game-winner against FC Cincinnati, he’s had plenty of action this season in front of goal.
Saint Louis had plenty of opportunities against FC Cincinnati, as they more than held their own against MLS opposition for the second straight game after vanquishing the Chicago Fire in the previous round.
Chances came and went, however, and in the last ten minutes of the game it seemed that Cincinnati had weathered the storm and were finding some creative joy themselves. For a soccer fan, there are few things better than a last minute winner and those fans, led by the St. Louligans supporters, were treated to a Fink header that hit the back of the net from a Lewis Hilton corner in the third minute of second half stoppage time. The game was over and Saint Louis became the first St. Louis team to reach the Quarterfinals since Fink’s local team Scott Gallagher reached the final eight in 1993.
“I think the guys deserved that,” Fink told the St. Louis Post Dispatch after the game. “We went toe-to-toe with them, didn’t back down. Felt like we had some great opportunities — bailed us out a couple of times. But I really felt like we deserved to move on.”
It was so fitting it was Sam who scored it. A St. Louis kid through and through, blue collar like the city he represents. A fitting representation of the club’s #OneOfUs hashtag.
2019 TheCup.us Player of the Round winners
Round 1: Charles Boateng (Richmond Kickers, USL-1)
Round 2: Bryant Martin (Florida Soccer Soldiers, USASA)
Round 3: Blake Frischknecht (Orange County FC, NPSL)
Round 4: Teal Bunbury (New England Revolution, MLS)
Round 5: Sam Fink (Saint Louis FC, USL-C)