Why Darwin Quintero makes Houston's attack great, Chicago's playoff potential & Thierry Henry's shift | Steve Zakuani

Chicago Fire celebration - August 25, 2020

Houston Dynamo got their first win of the season in an emphatic way, while Chicago Fire celebrated their Solider Field homecoming in style.

Quintero makes his mark

People often ask me who the best player I faced in my career was, and if you remove the international friendlies I played in, then the answer is very easy: Darwin Quintero.

I faced Quintero while he was at Santos Laguna and I’d never seen anyone play the No. 10 role in the way he did. His change of direction, passing, dribbling, and decision making was next level. When I heard he was coming to MLS I was certain he was going to take the league by storm, and although we saw signs of his undoubted quality in Minnesota (his hat trick vs Toronto comes to mind), he hasn’t quite hit the heights he did in Liga MX.

I understand that he is closer to the end of his career than he was when I played against him, but when I watch him now I see the same qualities I saw back then — a high soccer IQ, a willingness to involve his teammates, and an ability to create that very few possess. I like the way Tab Ramos coaches and I think Quintero may have found an environment that will make it easy to rediscover his best level.

Darwin Quintero highlights vs. SKC

He has the skill set of a winger — good pace, dribbling ability, and crossing — but I actually think he does his best work when he comes in from the flank and finds central areas where he can find the little combinations he’s always looking for. Most players try to beat defenders off the dribble, but if you watch closely, you’ll notice that he tries to do it with one-twos and off the ball running. With Alberth Elis occupying at least two opponents every time he attacks, Quintero is going to have the time and space to be a creative force for the Dynamo.

El Científico del Gol isn’t the player he was five years ago, but even now, at almost 33 years old, he can make the difference between a team having a good attack and a great one. He’s a big reason why the Dynamo put in the best performance of the night in their 5-2 pasting of Sporting KC.

The Fire's playoff case

Many people will be surprised by just how dominant the Chicago Fire were against FC Cincinnati tonight, but ever since I saw them play in Seattle for the season opener, I’ve felt that they are a better team than the results they’ve been getting. After tonight’s win, I’m 100% convinced they can be a playoff team. 

Raphael Wicky’s team have been showing signs that they are on their way to becoming a tactically sound team that wants to be patient in possession while not being afraid to be direct when necessary. Their standout player for me is Gaston Gimenez. He’s impressed me every time I’ve seen him and his quality was on full display for Fabian Herbers' opening goal. 

Seeing the pass is one thing, being able to play it with the perfect weight and timing is another thing altogether. He does his playmaking from very deep positions and looks to play that kind of pass a few times every game. Playoff-level teams need guys who can make special plays and Gimenez is the type of player who can create chances out of nothing for his team mates with his range of passing. If you’re an attacker for the Fire and Gimenez has the ball, just make the run because that ball will find you. His midfield partnership with Medran, if it keeps blossoming, can be one of the best pairings in the entire league. The challenge for the Fire will now be replicating this kind of performance away from the friendly confines of Soldier Field and against stiffer competition.

Henry adapts, time to worry for the 'Caps?

Credit to Thierry Henry for adapting. In an ideal world he would want his Montreal Impact team to play in a similar way to the great Arsenal and Barcelona teams he was a part of in his playing days, but I think he has realized that he needs to adjust to what he has.

The very best players very rarely become great coaches because their expectations for themselves are so high and they end up transferring them to their players, who don’t possess the ability they had. I think Henry has realized very few people are as gifted as he was, and so now he is coaching in a way that meets his players where they are. Against the Vancouver Whitecaps, it led to a solid, if unspectacular performance and 2-0 win for Montreal.

Speaking of the Whitecaps, they continue to disappoint. I don’t expect them to keep up with the best teams in the West but no goals in five games and a marquee signing in Lucas Cavallini that continues to misfire as he missed his second penalty of the season tonight is serious cause for concern. Defensively they were pretty solid, but if the lack of imagination offensively continues, it will be a long season for them.

Former MLS star winger Steve Zakuani was a No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft and played for the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers. He is currently a member of the Sounders broadcast team and has published a book "Rise Above" and a documentary "Unbreakable" surrounding his comeback from a serious injury which marked his playing days. He is also a coach at Bellevue High School and makes a difference in the lives of young athletes through his non-profit Kingdom Hope organization.