Minnesota United star Darwin Quintero leads his team in goals scored during MLS play this season with 10 and still hasn’t consistently found the form he delivered a season ago after he was signed as the team’s first designated player.
United coach Adrian Heath imagined what might be in the season’s final four games and the forthcoming playoffs after Quintero scored twice, including the eventual winner, in Sunday’s 3-1 home victory over Real Salt Lake.
The victory pushed United past Real Salt Lake by two points into third place in the West, one point behind Seattle with four regular-season games left for all three teams.
“If he can catch fire between now and the end of the season, who knows where it can take us,” Heath said. “He’s a difference-maker.”
Nearly three weeks ago, Heath did not start Quintero in the franchise’s most important game until then — the U.S. Open Cup final at Atlanta — and later Quintero publicly voiced his unhappiness how the matter was handled. Two weeks ago, he suffered a hamstring injury that sidelined him for Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at Houston.
On Sunday, Quintero looked like the player he was a season ago, controlling the ball with his dribble on both goals and celebrating each with the kind of gyrating only he exactly does.
The first came in the 20th minute as an answer to Real Salt Lake midfielder Albert Rusnak’s game-opening goal just three minutes earlier. He took teammate Kevin Molino’s perfectly timed, 20-yard pass on a full run behind the RSL defense, then deked keeper Nick Rimando left, right and then left again before scoring into an open goal from which Rimando had strayed.
The second came in the 51st minute and put United ahead for good after teammate Romain Metanire made a hustle play back in his own end. His saving the ball from out of bounds created Quintero’s goal on a run with the ball from midfield to the 18-yard box.
Quintero’s low, hard shot went through RSL defender Nedum Onuoha’s legs and just inside the right post.
“If we’re going to make a push from now on in, we need our best players to come alive,” Heath said. “We need to see that on a consistent basis. We need to see him push on from that. Hopefully, that will be a little turning point for him and we can piggyback on him like he did the first year he arrived here. If we can get him back to that level, it’ll be a huge boost for everybody.”
Quintero called his role as a second-half sub late in the Open Cup final “in the past” and said he tried to his best to recover quickly after injuring his hamstring at LAFC.
He was asked afterward what it would mean to find the same kind of form here at season’s end with which he played when he arrived last season.
“Well, that is what one wants, no?” he answered in Spanish through an interpreter. “We work to close the season well, to be physically fit and looking to God to keep playing like this, without any bother or injury to be able to close out the season in the best possible way.”
United veteran defender Ike Opara was asked afterward what it’d mean if Quintero can take his game Sunday to Portland next week and beyond toward the playoffs.
“It would be massive, him and everyone else,” Opara said. “Obviously, what he can do on the attack can be special for us. If he’s going to continue his form, hopefully, I like our chances.”