ST. PAUL, Minn. – For a team on a two-match winning streak, Minnesota United FC go into a double game week with a lot of questions.
The Loons are in danger of having no strikers available for the their next game, Wednesday night’s visit to LAFC (10 pm ET | ESPN+ – Full TV and streaming info), with Abu Danladi and Christian Ramirez out with injuries and Mason Toye unavailable due to a red-card suspension. And their trip west is quickly followed by a home match vs. San Jose on Saturday (2 pm ET | ESPN+ – Full TV and streaming info).
The 30 year-old Colombian, Minnesota’s first Designated Player, has rapidly become the linchpin of the Loons offense.
“I think we know that if we can get him the ball in and around the final third he's got incredible vision, great first touch, makes things happen,” said head coach Adrian Heath after Saturday’s 1-0 win over Vancouver.
Defensive midfielder Rasmus Schuller echoed his coach’s words.
“His individual qualities are so brilliant. For me and Ibson, it's often to search for him in between the opponent’s lines,” the Finnish international said, explaining how he and his central-midfield partner Ibson try to move the ball from midfield into attack through Quintero.
“All our best combination play in the first half came through him,” Heath said of Quintero. “He was involved whether we were along the right or the left. He's been a terrific pickup.”
Winger Miguel Ibarra has seen defenses forced to adapt to his new teammate, which creates more space for him and others in the attacking third.
“Everybody concentrates on him and makes me a little bit more open,” said Ibarra, scorer of Saturday’s game-winner, “so it's great for him to give me that.”
Ibarra has been a major beneficiary, notching a goal and assist in MNUFC’s last two games. Quintero himself said he’s very happy with his transition to Minnesota and his role in the attack.
“I see myself doing well. [Heath] is a coach who really likes the attacking side of the game because that’s how he played,” said the Colombian, referring to Heath’s playing career as a prolific striker for England’s Everton FC. “So I come in with the mentality that I’m going to learn a lot from him and hopefully score a lot of goals.”
With two goals in four games, Quintero is already the joint leading scorer for Minnesota, a team who have struggled at times this season to create scoring opportunities from their attacking four. It’s fortunate for the Loons that Quintero has settled in so quickly, because the cast around him has been a revolving door.
In his four matches, Quintero has started alongside three different strikers and four different wingers, with two of the latter already out of the 2018 picture, Sam Nicholson through a trade to Colorado and Ethan Finlay through a season-ending knee injury.
Heath was circumspect when talking about how the team’s tactics will change for Wednesday’s match in LA, but hinted that the abundance of players Minnesota has at midfield might drive the changes the team will be forced to make. The team is dealing with 11 players with injuries, so Heath was realistic about what the gameday 18-man roster will look like against the expansion side.
“We'll probably take every fit player to L.A.,” he said.
One player certain to be on the plane to California? Darwin Quintero.