Darwin Quintero is Minnesota United’s star designated player, but the playmaker also took on a new role off the field: Abu Danladi’s personal trainer.
“We had a meeting,” Danladi said of Quintero. “In the meeting he told me the team needs me. They want me to be back and to help the team as much as I can. He’s been playing for a long time, and he runs, too, and he told me he’s had hamstring problems, too. He gave me some exercises I’ve been doing as well with some band work. He took me to the gym and showed me a bunch of stuff to do, and I’ve been doing it. It helps a lot. I mean, he’s a pro, so I take all the advice I can get from people who have been through that.”
Danladi has struggled with injuries in his sophomore MLS season, amassing only nine games and three starts with the 2018 season about two-thirds of the way done. But Quintero’s advice paid off, as Danladi returned to action for the first time since early June after missing seven league games with a hamstring injury, playing 22 minutes and scoring a goal in last Saturday’s 4-2 loss at the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Back and hamstring injuries limited the former No. 1 draft pick in his rookie year as well, when he played 27 games with 15 starts and scored eight goals and had three assists. Six of those goals came in the last three months of the season, making coach Adrian Heath excited for Danladi’s start to 2018.
But an ankle injury and more hamstring woes disrupted that plan.
“We’ve been incredibly frustrated for the fact that he’s not been available for nearly half a season, considering where he finished the previous season, because the back half of the season he was outstanding at times,” Heath said. “We wanted this to be a big breakthrough season for him, and so far it’s been very frustrating for everybody.”
Heath said he hopes Danladi has done some self-reflection about his injuries and the work the 22-year-old does in his own time to look after his body. Heath compared Danladi’s potential to that of MLS stars David Villa and Josef Martinez, players with size and characteristics similar to Danladi’s. The coach said that opponents can mark physical size — as he has on the Loons in forwards Christian Ramirez and Angelo Rodriguez — but speed like Danladi’s is much harder to contain. And Danladi also has the versatility of being able to play on the wing.
“Sometimes people who’ve been blessed with that talent take it for granted, and that’s something we have spoken about,” Heath said. “Don’t take your athleticism for granted and realize what your strengths are. And if he does, he can be a very, very difficult player to play against.”
Danladi said his style of play leaves him susceptible to certain injuries. He can’t necessarily change his game, but he can put in extra work in the gym to strengthen his body.
“I can’t promise it will never happen again because I sprint a lot, and I’m always running,” Danladi said. “It’s just hard on the hamstring. But it’s just all about doing the stuff that I can do to protect it from happening again and just have to be very, very professional about it and very, very consistent about it. And that’s something I’m just focused on doing now.”
Winger Miguel Ibarra called Danladi a “key piece” for the Loons and said the older players have tried to help the young forward through any mental blocks that come with nagging injuries.
“Mentally, he’s just saying, ‘Oh, I’m going to pull it so I can’t do this,’ ” Ibarra said. “Just helping him out, saying, ‘Be confident, keep working on your strength so these injuries don’t happen again.’ ”
Danladi admitted it’s easy to become discouraged by the number of injuries he has had in his short professional career. But he loves the game too much to let fear of another injury keep him away from the field.
“It does help getting my first goal of the season, looking at the things I’ve been through, all this adversity,” Danladi said. “It just gives me confidence to be able to know my body feels better and ready to go.
“And I still can score.”