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Darwin Quintero adds needed spark for Minnesota United in Portland

Apr 14, 2018; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Timbers forward Fanendo Adi (9) celebrates after scoring a goal in the second half against Minnesota United at Providence Park. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Following a promising start in which Minnesota United earned six points from its first three games, the Loons have hit an early-season swoon losing three straight. A disappointing road performance at Red Bull Arena aside, Minnesota turned in respectable efforts in spite of the results.

Saturday evening, a familiar foe got the better of the Loons. Giovanni Savarese leads the Portland Timbers after a five-year stint with the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League. Defensive lapses allowed Portland to get the better of Minnesota, but there were positives for the Loons — namely a strong debut by MNUFC’s first designated player, Darwin Quintero.

Quintero adds needed spark

A combination of events led to Quintero’s arrival in Minneapolis: a season-ending knee injury to Kevin Molino and Quintero falling out of favor at Liga MX’s Club América. Questions about Quintero’s attitude followed the attacking midfielder to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, as well as those about how effective an attacking midfielder, who has employed his quickness to good effect, will be now that he’s entered his 30s.

The very earliest of results have been promising. 

The Colombian played a hand in both of the Loons’ goals Saturday at Providence Park. In the 64th minute, Quintero wove his way through the Portland defense after receiving the ball out on the right flank to score his first MLS goal.

Later, in the 81st minute, he sent a searching ball from midfield in the direction of a streaking Abu Danladi. With the Loons forward having run past the Timbers’ back line, Portland’s Bill Poni Tuiloma was forced into an over-the-shoulder clearance, which wound up lobbing his own keeper.

While quiet for the game’s opening half hour, Quintero grew into the match. His final statline read as 71 touches, five shots, two on target, a goal and an unofficial assist.

Two weeks earlier, Minnesota was frustrated by a 10-man Atlanta side that was able to turn away cross after cross while defending deep. Saturday, the Loons showcased a player capable of beating defenders off the dribble and creating chances for himself and his teammates in Quintero.

Time will tell if Quintero — signed to a three-year contract — will prove a shrewd addition by Director of Football Manny Lagos. Nothing in Quintero’s league and club debut suggested otherwise.

Teams continue to target Burch

It would be unfair to assign Minnesota’s three-game losing streak to the inclusion of Marc Burch in Minnesota’s starting XI, but the two overlap one another. 

Last season an injured groin required surgery and caused Burch to miss 11 games. Last month a malleolar injury left Burch unavailable for selection in a pair of matches. Now, 33 years old and in his 13th MLS season, opposing teams have looked to attack Burch with pace.

Against NYRB, it was 22-year-old Alex Muyl tallying a goal and an assist. Against Atlanta, 24-year-old Miguel Almirón stayed high up the pitch and ran at Birch for much of the first half when the Five Stripes were at full strength. Saturday, it was Alvas Powell’s turn.

Savarese made use of a pair of attacking midfielders behind Fanendo Adi, giving his attacking right back, Powell, plenty of space to make runs forward. Powell’s average position on the night was higher than any player in Portland’s defensive line, and even that of holding midfielder Diego Chara.

Shaped significantly by the first half, 37 percent of Portland’s attacks Saturday took place on Minnesota’s left side.

And it was Powell that opened scoring in the 20th minute, running past Burch on his way to turning Francisco Calvo around before driving the ball past Matthew Lampson near-post.

Burch subbed off at halftime with Adrian Heath citing an injury. Rookie Carter Manley was brought on at fullback and acquitted himself well in the second half. It may be that the more athletic Manley has now moved past Burch on Heath’s depth chart.

Crosses coming up short

In the last two games, the Loons attempted 82 crosses. They connected on just nine.

Over that same period, their victorious opponents attempted just 24 crosses while making 92 clearances.

Neither Christian Ramirez, Danladi, nor Mason Toye have reputations as being dominant in the air. Those forwards, often deployed on their own in a 4-2-3-1, are commonly flanked by Sam Nicholson, Ethan Finlay and Miguel Ibarra — the tallest of which is listed at 5-foot-9.

At its best, Heath’s attack is one that places opposing teams under pressure via through balls, quick combinations and an interchanging front four that showcases the talents of its members. At its least threatening, Heath’s team resorts to lumping balls into the box from the flanks in hopes something good will happen.

The efficacy of the latter approach highlights how significant the addition of Quintero could be to the Loons’ 2018 season. When Minnesota’s attack finds itself short of ideas, getting the ball to the feet of its first designated player may be a far more effective default than slinging it into the 18-yard box.

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