A guy nicknamed “Hot Boi” during his younger years truly has become one for Minnesota United’s attack late in the most unusual of all seasons.
Kevin Molino earned the moniker for his sartorial splendor when he played in Orlando. Now it rings true again for a gifted veteran midfielder who has shrugged off injuries and become the goal scorer who led his Loons to Monday’s MLS Western Conference final in Seattle.
With ACL surgeries in 2015 and 2018 and nagging injuries behind him, Molino scored twice in each of his team’s past three games — a Decision Day victory over FC Dallas and playoff victories over Colorado and at Sporting Kansas City.
His 13 goals this season are a career high for a player who made his MLS debut for coach Adrian Heath and Orlando City in 2015.
He might not be the same fashionista in Minnesota he was in Florida — “it’s cold out,” he said — but he’s hot nonetheless.
“It’s not the same crazy dress code I wear in Orlando, the bright colors,” Molino said. “They called me ‘Hot Boi’ and I just stuck with it. And now I’m scoring goals and have become more than a name someone calls me.”
Newly arrived attacking midfielder Emanuel Reynoso has assisted with that, literally.
Reynoso assisted on all three of his team’s goals in two of their past three games, which the Loons won by three identical 3-0 scores.
It’s an instant chemistry the two players discovered the first day they stepped onto the training ground in Blaine in August.
“Their relationship has been from the very first moment they got together,” Heath said. “Rey came to me after one of the drink breaks within 10, 15 minutes, pointed to Molino and said, ‘Muy bien, muy bien.’ Players know quality when they play with it. They’re both have a great understanding of the game.”
Heath has paired Molino and Reynoso with Ethan Finlay on the right wing and midfielder Robin Lod out front as a “false” striker. It gives their attack a fluidity and unpredictably that has made the Loons what Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer calls a “tricky” and “hard to manage” team.
”Everything else is easier,” Reynoso said in Spanish through a translator.
Each team plays a 4-3-2-1 formation, but in its own way.
Heath brought Molino with him from Orlando City to Minnesota with a 2017 trade and acquired Reynoso from Argentina’s famed Boca Juniors team after months of negotiations paid off this summer.
“Football is a universal language,” Molino said. “Right away, we were on the same page with him. Not just me, but the whole team feeds off. A No. 10 [attacking midfielder] who works so hard off the ball, too, is incredible. He’s not selfish. He’s about the team.”
At age 30, Molino has overcome a minor hamstring injury that sidelined him briefly in both July and September.
“It has been tough for me,” Molino said Saturday in a video call with reporters. “When I catch form, then a lot of injuries. Mentally, it has been tough, but you know every bad situation has a good one. With the team we have, the players we have, they support me. They’ve helped me through my tough times and now it’s just paying off.”
Now healthy and productive, Molino peaked at the perfect time, just in time for MLS Cup playoffs in which the Loons are two victories from a title.
“It’s a blessing for me,” he said. “There’s no better feeling than being on the field and competing every week, being out there with the team on the training park and looking forward to the next game is a blessing.”
Just in time, too, for season’s end when he becomes a free agent.
“My future here is winning a trophy first and foremost for the team,” Molino said. “I don’t want to study the contract situation now. I leave this for after the season.”
For now, he is a Hot Boi on the field who delights his biggest fan back home in Trinidad with every goal he and his team scores. His 7-year-old son’s loud, whirling celebrations are made for social media, and Molino obliges by posting on his accounts.
“He’s in love with the game, each and every player,” Molino said. “Not being there with him is tough. This is why social media is there, to connect people all over the world, through these difficult times. I’m just happy to be a part, to influence kids and also my son.”