ST. PAUL, Minn. — Last season, Darwin Quintero scored 11 league goals and assisted on 15 more for Minnesota United. Coming into Sunday, Quintero had tallied just eight goals and five assists in the 2019 MLS season. That changed against Real Salt Lake as the Loons’ dangerman scored a brace to lead his team to an important 3-1 victory.
The win left Minnesota (14-10-6, 48 points) with a six-point cushion over the seventh-placed LA Galaxy ahead of the their game against Sporting Kansas City to close Week 28 Sunday night. With just four games remaining in the regular season, it gave the Loons a bit of breathing room following a disappointing 2-0 loss at Houston Wednesday.
After the game, MNUFC head coach Adrian Heath called the victory “a huge win in light of the other results” from around the Western Conference.
“We were looking at it in the week and you think you put yourselves back under a lot of pressure again, and then we respond,” said Heath. “I’m really pleased with the response after going behind.
“In light of the results, its been a really good weekend for us.”
The Loons faced a bit of adversity to start the game when goalkeeper Vito Mannone lost his footing while unsuccessfully attempting to beat Albert Rusnák’s 17th-minute shot to the low corner to give Real Salt Lake (14-12-4, 46 points) a 1-0 lead. Minnesota needed only three minutes to respond.
Recording his fourth league assist of the season, Kevin Molino dissected the Claret-and-Cobalt back line with a well-weighted ball that met a streaking Quintero in stride. The Colombian’s poise allowed him to evade a charging Nick Rimando, and with a pair of recovering Salt Lake defenders having raced back to their goal line, Quintero was free to set his feet before poking the ball into the net.
“He’s a great player — a great passer,” said Quintero of Molino via an interpreter. “You can always expect a good ball from Kevin.”
Sep 15, 2019; Saint Paul, MN, Saint Paul, MN, USA; Real Salt Lake forward Jefferson Savarino (7) controls the ball against Minnesota United defender Michael Boxall (15) during the first half at Allianz Field. Mandatory Credit: Ben Ludeman-USA TODAY Sports
Quintero added it was always important how a team reacts to conceding a goal, and that the Loons reacted well to giving up an early lead.
Making amends for his earlier misstep, Mannone came up big in the 30th minute. The ‘keeper was quick off his line with Jefferson Savarino played in on goal, and made a reaction save with his top hand to keep the scoreline level at 1-1, which held until halftime.
Six minutes after the restart, Kyle Beckerman and Donny Toia collided at midfield as both went after a loose ball. Out of the clamor, Quintero scooped up the loose ball before making a run to the edge of the RSL penalty area. Shooting through traffic, Quintero beat Rimando to the near post to give MNUFC its first lead.
It was Quintero’s third multi-goal league game since joining MNUFC, and his second of the season following a two-goal performance at Toronto on April 19.
“I think I said on the TV that if we’re going to make a push from now on in, we need our best players to come alive,” Heath said. “Darwin’s a difference maker. We know that, but we need to see it on a consistent basis. We need to see him now push on from that. If he does that it’ll be really, really valuable for us moving forward.”
Heath called scoring and creating goals the hardest thing in soccer, noting it was why players like Quintero are among the highest paid in the league.
For his part, Quintero was focused on the collective more than his goal count.
“I’m just happy with the overall result. I’m happy to have helped out in whatever way I could,” Quintero said. “I’m always working to help out the team, and to score some goals. Sometimes [the latter] doesn’t always work out, but today it did.”
The Loons added an insurance goal in the 83rd minute via second-half substitute Ethan Finlay. Right back Romain Métanire won the ball at midfield ahead of forward Abu Danladi occupying the Salt Lake back line with an attacking run. Picking out Finlay who had tucked inside, Métanire curled the ball into a pocket of space leaving Finlay free to collect the pass before scoring his seventh goal of the season.
Heath said postgame Métanire had been a bit fatigued after returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, but looked his old self on the afternoon.
“It’s been awhile since we’ve seen that, but man that was a game,” said MNUFC centerback Ike Opara. “Romain really changed the game for us just with pure willingness and hustle and desire. You can’t teach that. It won’t show up in the box score, but that was unbelievable.
“We needed to respond from Houston and we did that tonight. Our destiny’s in our own hands. Obviously, if the results go our way that’s great, but we can control what we do from here on out so obviously it’s a big win for us.”