Injured in the first half Saturday at San Jose, Minnesota United veteran midfielder Kevin Molino rehabbed on his own Tuesday and coach Adrian Heath said he's “hopeful” Molino will be ready to play by Sunday for the home opener against New York Red Bulls.
Heath also called Molino, who had two goals and an assist in the season’s first game and a half, a probable “game-day decision.”
Molino walked off the field on his own just before halftime Saturday with an injury that Heath later called a "slight" hamstring strain.
“He’s had a really good start,” Heath said Tuesday. “We’d like that to continue.”
Playing the “No. 10” attacking midfielder so far this season, Molino sat on the grass with his legs outstretched and motioned to come out of the game in the 42nd minute of the Loons' 5-2 victory over the Earthquakes.
He was replaced by second-year midfielder Hassani Dotson, who won’t be an option if Molino can’t play Sunday. Dotson has been called to the U.S. national Under-23 team for Olympic qualifying play in Mexico later this month.
“We have that depth now,” Heath said. “We have one or two options to decide which way we go. If Kevin doesn’t make it, then we have people who have waited and are champing at the bit to get an opportunity. … Whoever has to step up, I’m fully confident they can step up and do the job Hassani has been trying to do for us over the last 12 months or so.”
New and improved
The Loons trained outdoors at Allianz Field on Tuesday morning for the first time this season, in preparation for their 6 p.m. Sunday game against the Red Bulls.
They ran and scrimmaged on the grass field that was replaced last season because of drainage issues after their regular-season finale and before the franchise’s first playoff game, a home loss to the L.A. Galaxy.
The grass was longer than it will be by Sunday.
“It’s in much better condition, for sure,” veteran defender Ike Opara said. “Obviously, there’s a little bit of slipping going around, but that happens when you haven’t touched the field for a while. I’ve got every bit of confidence in our groundskeeping crew.”
Something about sleeping dogs
Opara never got that text he expected from former San Jose teammate Chris Wondolowski – MLS’ all-time leading scorer with 159 – after Opara promised to take it easy on a guy who’s retiring after this season and then went up and over him to score on his second of two header goals Saturday.
“Surprisingly, I did not and I’m not going to wake up the monster there,” Opara said. “I’m just going to slide out and be quiet. We play them in a few weeks, so I might hold off on reaching out until then. When he’s the leading goal scorer in MLS history, you just shut your mouth. You’ve got nothing to gain if you’re a defender.”
Ike aims high?
Opara is tied with Molino, teammate Luis Amarilla and six others for second in MLS in goals scored after two weeks, just behind Montreal’s Maximiliano Urruti’s three goals.
The two-time MLS Defender of the Year was asked Tuesday what would mean more -- a third such award or the MLS Golden Boot for being its leading goal scorer.
“Um, uh, one’s probably not realistic, so third Defender of the Year,” he said. “Obviously, I want to do well and help the team performance. That has always been my goal. Rewards and individual success always come from that.”
He said it
The Loons come home from their first two games the West Coast with a 2-0 record and an 8-3 advantage in goals.
They also might be bringing home what midfielder Ethan Finlay called “earned” respect from a lot of teams around MLS.
“I think there is a different level of respect for us now,” Finlay said. “I could say there’s a target on our back, but it’s on our front.”