Minnesota United star Darwin Quintero said in a candid and rare media interview Thursday that he was very surprised, upset and hurt that he played a second-half substitute’s role in the team’s U.S. Open Cup final on Tuesday.
Quintero said he expected to start the biggest game in the franchise’s three-year MLS history after coach Adrian Heath last week in Kansas City told him he would.
Quintero said Heath had told him to “stay calm” when he played only the final 21-plus minutes in the Loons’ 1-0 loss to Sporting K.C. last Saturday so he would be 100 percent for the Open Cup match at Atlanta United.
Instead, Quintero was a sub for a second consecutive game after Heath decided to change to a 4-3-3 formation against Atlanta’s gifted attackers. The knockout tournament’s leading goal scorer was on the sideline while rookie midfielder Hassani Dotson and 20-year-old striker Mason Toye started.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” Quintero said in Spanish through a translator. “You always want to believe in what people tell you and I was hoping to be in the starting lineup because that’s what (Heath) told me before the game on Thursday. That’s it. He is the one who makes the final decision.
“But when someone tells you one thing and does another without telling you about it in person, it hurts.”
The Loons surrendered two goals in the first 16 minutes against Atlanta United, then got back in the game when newcomer Robin Lod scored two minutes after halftime. Quintero, who scored six goals in the tournament’s first four games, did not play until he came on in the 74th minute in a game the Loons lost 2-1.
“I was frustrated, especially being the lead goal scorer in the tournament,” Quintero told reporters after Thursday’s training. “I wanted to be there. But it happened. That’s how things happened. He is the one who makes the decisions. … He never came up to me to tell me he had changed his plan, that he was going to go with another team that he felt with that formation we would win the game.
“But he’s the one who makes the final decision. We (players) may not like it, but we keep working hard towards the next objective, which is qualifying for the playoffs.”
When asked about the future and a team option on his contract for 2020, Quintero said that decision eventually will be made by team officials.
“I’m happy here, my family is happy here,” Quintero said. “I’m staying calm. I need to finish the season the best way I can.”
Heath said his decision wasn’t personal.
“I don’t make decisions for individuals, I make them for the good of the club,” Heath said. “We’re trying to win, trying to move the club forward and sometimes when that happens you have to make decision that are not popular. I understand that. But that will never change. … This team doesn’t pick itself anymore. We have too many good players”
Minnesota United acquired Quintero early last season as its first designated player. He delivered an all-star season that hasn’t been able to replicate this season. He attributes that partly to an April ankle injury that set him back, to Heath having less faith in him this season, and to him not being “resolute” enough up front.
“I haven’t had as many assists, haven’t scored as many goals,” Quintero said. “Sometimes you don’t see the pass made to the goal if the forward misses it. I think I’ve tried to be the same as I was last year.”
He scored 11 goals and had 15 assists in 27 games last season, starting all of them. This season, he has started 20 of 25 games and has eight goals and five assists.
Asked if this season has been one he expected, Quintero said, “Honestly, no. This season has very much taken me by surprise. I haven’t played the games or the minutes that I would have liked. I haven’t felt the same level of confidence from the coach that I had last season, but he is the one who makes the final decision. If his expectations of me have changed from what it was last year then all that’s left for me to do is keeping working.”
When asked the same thing, Heath said Tuesday’s new formation played on without an attacking midfielder that is Quintero’s natural position.
“He has had moments,” Heath said. “When he has been good, he has been excellent. But when we change the shape , then we have to look at what are we going to going to get in wide areas. That’s what we did the other night. As much as he is disappointed — and I know it’s always a stick to beat the coach with after you don’t win — I look at the game as a whole and look at what the players I picked ahead of him contributed. And I’m pleased with that.”
Quintero said he has put Tuesday’s decision and his team’s Open Cup final loss behind him.
“That’s it,” he said. “You can’t change the past. Now we think about what’s next and that is making the playoffs. … I want to make the playoffs. This team, I want us all to make the playoffs.”