Paced by superb Quintero, Minnesota United evolving into playoff contenders

MINNEAPOLIS – Darwin Quintero has been the spark Minnesota United needed to turn their season around and make the playoffs a real possibility for the second-year MLS club.

A team that appeared out of the playoff picture by May, the Loons are now in seventh place in the Western Conference standings, only two points behind Real Salt Lake, who currently occupy the West’s sixth and final postseason slot.

Minnesota flashed their credentials with a stunning 5-1 blowout of LAFC – who sit second in the conference – on Sunday night. Quintero bagged two assists and one goal, and was a threat every time he touched the ball.

Loons coach Adrian Heath sees something special in the diminutive Colombian playmaker, comparing him to Robbie Keane, Miguel Almiron and Sebastian Giovinco after the victory.

“It's been a long time since I've been involved with a team that every time we attack, if we can get Darwin on the ball, we look like we are going to create or score a goal every time we are in their half of the field,” said Heath.

“I think he is now enjoying playing with the rest of the group, and they certainly understand him.”

Minnesota seem to be gelling around the Designated Player. Forward Christian Ramirez explained that he’s happy to be the decoy for his attacking partner, because that will isolate Quintero one-on-one on a defender.

Quintero on Sunday | USA Today Sports Images

Quintero can then “beat his man, because nine out of 10 times, he’s going to,” said Ramirez. “And it’s working.”

With Sunday’s result, Minnesota earned all nine points from a homestand of three games in nine days, their first winning streak of three or more wins in MLS. Quintero proved integral, tallying three goals and four assists and playing nearly every minute. He’s now scored six goals and four assists in his last five games.

That success has brought attention. Quintero has already noticed that defenses and goalkeepers are playing him differently, noting on Sunday that LAFC goalkeeper Tyler Miller took a few steps back to cut down the possibility of a chip, a move he has used to score several of his nine league goals this season.

Quintero knows teams are going to try to find ways to shut him down, but it’s on him to find new ways to beat them.

“They get to know you and what you are all about and what you can do,” he said. “At that point it's just time to try new things and see what else you can do.”

Heath noted that Quintero has also been a great addition on the training pitch and in the locker room, dubbing the Colombian “great to coach, great to work with, great prescience in the locker room.”

That was on display on Sunday. When reporters flocked to Quintero to hear him talk about his play, the attacker was quick to shift the focus.

“I'm trying to do my best, giving my team my all,” he said. “I'm enjoying [the win over LAFC] right now and what happened today, [but] it's time to move on and look ahead to Vancouver [on Saturday] because it's another final for us if we aspire to make the playoffs.”