Welcome to the Thursday edition of The Cooler, where sometimes I can’t really tell where I’m going, either.

*Merely spending money on players is no guarantee of success in sports.

It makes the fans happy at the time, sure, and an increased payroll increases the margin for error. But the moves themselves still must be prudent and well-considered to have a good chance of working out. (See: Twins and free agent starting pitching).

I will confess to not knowing much about Darwin Quintero before Minnesota signed him as the franchise’s first designated player early this season.

I do know that United fans had been clamoring for such a transaction since the franchise’s move to MLS in 2017. They supported the Loons quite well through a first season played on a shoestring player budget. Year 2 needed to bring an increase in quality as United geared up for a Year 3 move to its permanent home of Allianz Field.

Enter Quintero, a 5-foot-5, 30-year-old whirlwind from Colombia. He signed for a reported $200,000 transfer fee and $1.5 million annual salary. Those aren’t huge numbers in the context of global soccer or the other major men’s pro sports teams in town. Kirk Cousins will make almost 20 times as much next year with the Vikings.

But it was a significant leap for United. And the return on investment so far has been spectacular.

Appearing in just 15 of the Loons’ 20 matches after joining with the season in progress, Quintero has a team-high eight goals to go with four assists. He’s starred in United’s two most recent matches, a pair of wins that have the Loons back at least to the fringes of playoff contention.

Here’s his tally Wednesday in a win against New England — a demonstration of his work ethic and quality.

The crowded Minnesota sports market and the nature of soccer itself are very much matters of the survival of the fittest. With the help of Darwin, United is emerging on both fronts.

*Speaking of United, the team released photos of the under-construction Allianz Field lit up at night. It’s a sight to behold.

*The Nemanja Bjelica saga has another potential twist. The former Wolves forward agreed to a one-year deal two weeks ago with the 76ers but backed out this week and said he was returning to Europe to play next season because of family considerations. Now, though, the NBA’s Kings have made contact about a long-term deal.

It makes sense that Bjeli could change his mind again since the Kings are in position to offer the stability he craves. But what a weird, wild offseason for him.

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