MINNEAPOLIS—To say Minnesota United FC sorely needed a victory on Saturday would be an understatement.
While the team itself had gone four games in a row without a win (and three of those at home), individual players were starting to feel the strain of a slump: Christian Ramirez scored his first goal since June 29. Miguel Ibarra’s tally – the icing on an eventual 4-0 blowout – marked his first time in the box score since adding an assist on June 24. Rookie Abu Danladi was able to break out at the end of the first half, scoring for the first time since June 21.
However, no player got more of a confidence boost from the win at TCF Bank Stadium than Kevin Molino. The Trinidad & Tobago international had gone four games without an assist heading into Saturday night. His pair of helpers in the first half put Minnesota in the driver’s seat, and they never looked back.
“For me, I just need to keep smiling and enjoy what I do,” Molino said. “Tonight was a night I was rewarded. Not just the assists, but for us as a group, we did well. Now it’s about how we react. We have two important games against the champions. We have to stay patient and progress as a team together.”
Acquired from Orlando City SC ahead of the season for a then-record $650,000 of allocation money, Molino was set to be the main piece of the Loons attack. Head coach Adrian Heath even referred to him as “one of the best” players in the league ahead of the season. Yet lingering injuries might have contributed to a slump.
“I think Kevin has had a really bad ankle for 3-4 weeks,” Heath revealed. “For a couple of weeks, we were thinking about not playing him. Today’s probably the fittest he’s felt, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he played better.”
Molino didn’t take long to take advantage of his improved fitness. He was able to curl a beautiful ball over the D.C. United backline, finding Ramirez in stride. The striker was able to finish his chance emphatically, and the rout was on.
“I just took off because I knew the ball would be there,” Ramirez said. “It was my job to put it away. He was staying higher up the field centrally, which is where we need him so I’m not so isolated up top. It keeps the two centerbacks honest, and he got involved very early.”
Molino took note of Ramirez’s movement immediately. “The run from Christian initiated the pass from me. The finish was fantastic. That set the tone for the game, and that put us in the position to get the three points. I’m happy for the team.”
The Loons will aim to ride the momentum from Molino, Ramirez, and the rest of the attack as defending champion Seattle Sounders come to town Saturday (8pm ET | MLS LIVE). With Molino asserting himself as the starting No. 10, Minnesota is finally hitting their stride. However, Heath thinks this is only the beginning.
“The ball he put in to Christian is as good as you’ll see, but I expect that from him,” Heath said. “That’s why we paid the money for him. Still should get 10 goals a season, so he has a long way to go to get there.”