In the hours after Club América defeated Tauro FC in the CONCACAF Champions League on March 15, Minnesota United general manager Manny Lagos and coach Adrian Heath sat down in a hotel lobby in Panama with Colombian midfielder Darwin Quintero.
The Loons had never signed a Designated Player in their club history. Quintero, meanwhile, was in need of a new team.
The former Santos Laguna and Águilas star found himself out of favor with his Liga MX side. He was often on the bench often as Club América tried to move forward with newer faces. Quintero had played in just four Liga MX games since the start of the new year, and none since Feb. 14. That night in the CCL, however, Quintero showed he could still make an impact, assisting on a goal in a 3-1 win.
Lagos and Heath wanted to make sure Quintero would be the right fit for the squad, and so Heath took a few days out of a work week to make the trip with Lagos, even missing a couple training sessions as a result. Minnesota had taken this approach before, flying down to Costa Rica to meet with Francisco Calvo before signing him ahead of last season.
By the end of the meeting, Heath and Lagos were convinced they had the right player. They believed Quintero saw something special in the opportunity, as well.
“He’s a really smart young man who is astute about his professional career and about the moves he could make,” Lagos said. “It’s a credit to MLS for being a league that players like this want to go to, and a credit to the club and our owners for creating a project and environment players get excited for.”
On Saturday, Quintero was announced as Minnesota United’s first DP. He immediately becomes the most exciting player on the roster and a factor teams will have to account for when they prepare for the second-year squad.
What makes the transfer even more impressive, however, is the bargain price at which United was able to acquire the Colombian. Quintero was purchased from Club América for around $200,000, league sources told MLSsoccer.com, and his salary will pay him around $1.5 million per year.
It’s a stunningly low transfer fee for a player who has been so effective in Liga MX in the recent past. For context, the price when MLS teams inquired about Quintero last year was in the multimillion-dollar range, a source said. But with Club América looking for change and ready to move on quickly, United took advantage to leverage a steal.
Lagos declined to discuss details of the deal, but acknowledged the club was happy with the transaction.
“Part of the goal for us is to create a network and create relationships to navigate the right price point and the right time to sign a player and aggressively pursue that player in the right way,” Lagos said. “We created a good relationship with Club América and a bigger relationship for the future, and it certainly played into us getting good value for the player.”
The next step is to figure out how Quintero will fit into the squad. Quintero won’t play on Saturday as he awaits his visa, and with Minnesota United on a bye next week they will have time to integrate him into the lineup.
At 30 years old, Quintero may have lost a bit of what made him such a special player in Mexico – he hit double-digit goals in five of seven seasons from 2009-10 to 2015-16 – but he still has the pace and technical ability to impact games.
Quintero usually lines up at winger, a position at which United has plenty of depth. Ethan Finlay has made a home on the right side, where Quintero often plays. United could look to play Quintero on the left side, however, or underneath the striker in their preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. They might also be able to change things up depending on the opponent and venue and look to use an Abu Danladi-Quintero combination on the road to be dangerous on the counterattack.
Lagos said Quintero is a player who can “change a game in terms of pace and in terms of touches” and has the ability to “score but also wanting to create and provide assists.” He is not concerned about those who doubt the impact Quintero can make at this stage in his career.
“That’s why we play the games, that’s why stories are to be told on the field and not necessarily in the conjecture world of sports and soccer,” Lagos said. “For me, we’re excited for what Darwin is going to bring for the future. He’s only been on two teams in the last 10 years, both teams have been very successful and he’s been a part of that success on and off field and in the community. He checks a lot of boxes.”
The most important box he checks is level of investment. Minnesota’s first DP is now crossed off the list, and Lagos said there is more similar outlay to come in the future. Minnesota remains interested in Nicolas Benedetti, a young Colombian playmaker at Deportivo Cali, and he is still on the list of players the club will pursue, Lagos said.
The team is also in the mix to acquire Peruvian left winger and left back Alexi Gomez, who recently left Mexican club Atlas. His loan status may complicate that deal, but Minnesota continue talks regarding the player. Lagos said the club is “still looking” in the primary window.
Quintero’s arrival, then, seems to signify the start of a new phase in Minnesota’s roster build. If the Colombian can live up to his past performances, he may be the perfect man to launch it.