Our Minnesota United analyst Nic Hallett dives into the major talking points from Sunday’s win over Real Salt Lake.
Darwin splashes back onto the scene
Darwin Quintero reestablished himself as Minnesota United’s top billing with a stirring two-goal performance to lead the Loons to a 3-1 victory against Real Salt Lake on Sunday afternoon.
Quintero, bouncing back from a recent hamstring injury, showed what every United fan knows he’s capable of when he dribbled past RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando and nonchalantly poked home to level the score at 1-1. It wouldn’t have shocked the Allianz Field faithful when he took on five RSL defenders, only to arrow his perfectly placed shot through the legs of a defender and into the farthest reaches of the bottom right corner, giving Minnesota a lead they’d never relinquish.
But can the man they call The Scientist have these types of impacts consistently? That’s the question on everyone’s mind, including Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath.
“If we are going to make a push from now to the end, we need our best players to come alive,” Heath said. “Darwin is a difference maker. We know that but we need to see that on a consistent basis. We need to see him now, push on from that and if he does that will be really, really valuable for us moving forward. You hear me many, many times, talk about scoring goals and making goals and that’s why they go for the most money. That’s why you pay them the most money. It’s the hardest thing in football to do and when he does it well, he’s excellent.”
Heath was again questioned about the omission of Quintero in the franchise’s first ever cup final a few weeks ago, which sparked controversy, the fires of which don’t seemed to have completely yet burned out.
“There’s a lot of ways to do this. There’s not a right way and a wrong way of telling players that you’re not playing,” Heath said. “Bottom line is nobody likes being left out. I’ll do it the way I’ve always done it.”
A best XI emerges
First, a burgeoning franchise enters just its third Major League Soccer season with a myriad of new acquisitions. Half the season takes place and numerous young players emerge as key cogs. Finally, an eventful summer transfer window sees more big signings, including a club-record transfer fee purchase.
A few games have taken place since then and you can begin to see the dust settling and what’s left appears to be a picture of what United’s best XI is.
Heath said himself pregame that starting striker Mason Toye had his “three best footballers” underneath him, referencing the attacking midfield three of Kevin Molino, Darwin Quintero and Robin Lod.
We already discussed the exploits of Quintero. Lod continues to retain possession at exceedingly high rates, while also providing an experienced goal threat. Molino’s playmaking ability at times is jaw dropping; look no further than his eye-of-the-needle assist for Quintero’s first goal.
“I thought our combination play at times in the first half was excellent when we got Robin [Lod] and Kevin [Molino] and Darwin [Quintero] on the ball because as I said, they are three of our better footballers and we need them to be on the ball creating and being as lively as they were at times.”
The engine room of midfield is unquestioned as Ozzie Alonso and Jan Gregus have been models of consistency throughout much of the campaign. The defense is just as clear with Vito Mannone barking orders to the quartet of Romain Metanire, Ike Opara, Michael Boxall and Chase Gasper (though Wilfried Moimbe-Tehrat started on Sunday due to Gasper’s suspension).
This group further emphasized the proclamation they should be first choice by brushing aside a Real Salt Lake side that has been among the class of MLS this season, proving furthermore Minnesota can virtually beat any team in the league on a given day.
What’s more, the accent pieces to the squad are coming into focus as well. Ethan Finlay has had a stellar season and his speed and energy serve as a perfect foil to the starters when he comes off the bench. The established midfield also serves as the perfect scenario for youngsters Thomas Chacon and Hassani Dotson to consistently rotate in without the pressure of being fully relied upon.
Toye appears to have taken sole ownership of No. 9 role
It’s not necessarily shocking revelation at this point, but it is nonetheless noteworthy: Mason Toye appears to have officially supplanted Angelo Rodriguez as Heath’s primary striker.
On Sunday, not only did Toye start atop the 4-2-3-1 formation as the lone frontman, but his backup was fellow youngster Abu Danladi. Angelo Rodriguez, a former designated player for United, didn’t even make the 18-man squad for the match. The Colombian striker was also not listed on Minnesota’s injury report.
Recent events — Toye scoring big, game-wining goals and being called up by the U.S. youth national team — to go along with the fact that he was the franchise’s top selection in the 2018 MLS Draft make what’s happening understandable. But for it to be happening this suddenly was beyond anyone’s estimation.
Early on this campaign when Toye began to emerge, I conjectured on The Minnesota Soccer Podcast at this possibility. But I must say, even I am surprised how quickly Heath has seemingly kicked Rodriguez all the way to the curb. For example, I would certainly opine that Rodriguez has more to offer to the squad than Danladi.
It’s possible though that the staff and front office wouldn’t mind letting go of Rodriguez. Heath may think removing him and continuing to build a youthful squad will help overall chemistry. While sporting director Manny Lagos may be happy to see his high wages removed from the salary table.