PORTLAND, ORE. – Kevin Molino’s first goal for Minnesota United FC didn’t even look like his.
And, well, it might not have been.
“Actually, I tried to cross [near the] first post,” Molino said. “It ended up with a little bit too much bend, and it deflected off the defender.”
The midfielder’s corner kick in the 49th minute seemed to graze Vancouver Whitecaps forward Erik Hurtado’s head before the ball sailed into Vancouver’s goal. But that first score of the game gave the Loons an eventual 1-1 draw with Vancouver on Thursday at Providence Park in the first game of a three-game preseason tournament.
“I’ll take it however it comes,” Molino said. “A goal is a goal.”
The Trinidad and Tobago men’s national team member came to United in late January from Orlando City SC in a pretty big deal by Major League Soccer standards, including Orlando goalkeeper Patrick McLain, for $650,000.
But that money was well spent, according to United coach Adrian Heath, who also coached Molino for several years at Orlando.
“He can do anything,” Heath said. “He’s one of the best players in the league. That’s why we paid what some people thought was a lot of money for him. I absolutely think we got him cheap.”
Of Molino’s corner kick goal, Heath said: “I’d like to say it’s what we’ve been working on in training, but it’s not. Obviously, really pleased it went in.”
With the pressure his big trade has put on him, Molino said he has been doing his best to put his head down and just work.
“Yeah, the spotlight would be on me, but the most important thing is, what I put into it is what I’m going to get out of it,” Molino said, adding the extra motivation of not playing for about 10 months back in 2015 because of an ACL injury has really encouraged him to seize the moment.
Fellow midfielder Miguel Ibarra said Molino has impressed the squad from preseason camp in Arizona.
“As soon as he came in the first practice, you could already tell he was a quality player,” Ibarra said. “He always wants the ball. He likes to play. … He’s been a big help to the team.”
Ibarra and Molino were a part of United’s “first team,” as Ibarra put it, to start the game. The two wingers would frequently switch sides of the field as a way to confuse the defenders.
“Just before the game, we said if he goes on the left, I’ll go on the right. If I’m on the right, he goes on the left,” Ibarra said. “So it was just a natural thing that came along.”
The Loons first team lined up as John Alvbage in goal, Justin Davis, Francisco Calvo, Vadim Demidov, and Jermaine Taylor as the back line, Collen Warner and Mo Saeid as holding midfielders, while Rasmus Schuller was more a central midfielder, and Molino and Ibarra on the wings of the attack with Abu Danladi as the forward.
While the first team kept a clean sheet, Vancouver scored the equalizer late in the 82nd minute off an outside-the-box strike from midfielder Russell Teibert. This was after United changed out all the field players in favor of Thomas de Villardi, Brent Kallman, Joe Greenspan and Kevin Venegas as defenders, Ibson and Collin Martin as holding midfielders, Bashkim Kadrii, Eugene Starikov and Raul Gonzalez as attacking midfielders and wingers, and Christian Ramirez as the striker.
And while Heath said the final score wasn’t as important as the general improvement he saw in his team, it is a little quirky that all of United’s preseason matches so far have ended in 1-1 draws.
“We haven’t been beaten yet,” he said. “Which is OK.”