For a team that’s clearly dissatisfied with its place in the Major League Soccer pecking order, recent events might have helped Minnesota United move up those ranks a bit.
Or at least put more eyes on the brushed-aside franchise.
The club officially presented new designated player Darwin Quintero in a news conference Monday at the Midpointe Event Center in St. Paul, next to the towering steel of its home next season, Allianz Field.
Despite his 5-5, 142-pound frame, Quintero is set to bring a lot of swagger to his role as star player for the Loons. He is reportedly the club’s first player to command a seven-figure salary.
“Yeah, I wanted a change of scenery, and I was even more excited about it being able to come here as a DP,” Quintero said in Spanish through a translator of his transfer from Mexican team Club America. “[United] presented a plan that was really attractive to me. Being the player in that plan was something that made me want to come to Minnesota.”
The 30-year-old Colombian attacker certainly will be The Player, capital letters and all. Coach Adrian Heath sees Quintero playing as a No. 10, the playmaking central attacking midfielder, and said his best position is to be around or underneath the striker. Quintero has played in wider areas for his most recent club, a possible explanation for a dip in playing time and goal-scoring from a productive career at fellow Mexican team Santos Laguna from 2009-14.
“Because of the way he’s been played, and he’s been playing a little bit wider at times as well for Club America, I want to get him back in and around the penalty area where I think he’s at his most dangerous,” Heath said. “I want him in the thick of it. I want him to be the fulcrum of everything that we do going forward.”
Director of player personnel Amos Magee said the technical staff was well aware of Quintero for years, dating back to when Magee worked at D.C. United and Heath coached at Orlando City. But the price then was much too high. When an intermediary informed Minnesota United of Quintero’s interest in moving to MLS, sporting director Manny Lagos and Heath flew to Panama to watch him play in a March 14 CONCACAF Champions League game.
Magee declined to comment on financials of the deal, but the league’s official website reported the transfer fee was $200,000 and Quintero’s salary would be about $1.5 million per year. Heath said four or five MLS clubs have tried to sign Quintero in the past. Only a year ago, he heard of the price tag being around $5 million.
“We felt that Club America was really good partners in making this work for the player and for us,” Magee said. “It was, all things being equal, a reasonably easy deal to do. Certainly easier to do than some other non-designated player deals that we’ve done.”
While the Loons initially pursued another prospective first-ever DP in Colombian Nicolas Benedetti, Heath said that was because Quintero wasn’t available at the time.
He also said the team was interested in Quintero before playmaker Kevin Molino’s season-ending ACL injury in the second game of the season. Molino’s injury put more emphasis on the signing. Miguel Ibarra has been playing the No. 10 in Molino’s absence.
With Quintero’s age and his having played for only two clubs in the past eight years, the Loons are anticipating a dedicated player who will broaden the club’s outreach not only to the Latin and Hispanic communities in the Twin Cities, but also in Central and South America.
That’s no pressure for Quintero.
“More a responsibility,” Quintero said in Spanish through a translator. “For all that it represents for the club.”
Heath said he “wholeheartedly” agreed with team captain Francisco Calvo’s postgame comments Saturday, when the center back said he was tired of how MLS gives more respect to teams like Atlanta United and LAFC than the Loons, who are not as terrible as people make them out to be.
“Calvo’s right, but the only way we change that narrative is by winning on the field,” Heath said.
Magee said he was happy to see Calvo play the role of impassioned leader sticking up for his club.
“The story was written before we kicked out first ball in MLS: That we were a team hastily assembled and were going to be really, really poor,’ Magee said. “And unfortunately in the first month of the season [last year], we did nothing to dissuade anybody from that narrative, and that’s the narrative people have stuck with for over a year.
“I understand where he was coming from,” Magee said.
Note: Lagos was not at the news conference because he was on a scouting trip. Magee declined to state where. “We have some roster spots. If we can bring in the right players to help our group, and that happens before May 1 [when the transfer window closes], we’ll do it. If we have to wait until the summer, we’ll wait until the summer.” He also said in general the club is happy with the roster where it is now, but it could still use a couple new pieces to change the dynamic.