Minnesota United star Darwin Quintero was right: He’s not returning to the team for which he starred the past two seasons.
Two days after Quintero posted on social media that United declined a contract option for next season, the team traded him Wednesday within MLS to Houston for $600,000 in allocation money and midfielder Marlon Hairston.
Quintero said his goodbye to the club and its supporters in Twitter and Instagram postings, but a United spokesman said Monday a deal wasn’t done.
United traded Quintero on Wednesday instead, before a three-day trade window expired that evening, sending him to Houston along with a third-round pick in January’s SuperDraft.
United will receive $300,000 in targeted allocation money and $300,000 in general-allocation money, split into $150,000 each for the next two seasons. The trade also clears Quintero’s $2 million salary for 2020 from its payroll and opens up a designated player slot.
“It’s hard to say goodbye to players who have done well for us,” United’s new technical director Mark Watson said. “But it’s part of the business. This is not a decision we took lightly. Darwin has been great for us the better part of two really good years. He was part of some really good moments for this club to get where we are right now.”
Hairston, 25, is a versatile wing and fullback who played in college at Louisville and has played six MLS seasons with Colorado and Houston.
“He came into the league early so he’s really young,” Watson said of Hairston. “He’s versatile, very athletic. He fits the mentality of the player we’re looking for. We’ve developed a really good chemistry, a really good identity and that’s something we want to build on moving forward. The energy we have at Allianz Field, we want a group that’s going to work and run and bring energy. We’re also looking for players who can help with that philosophy.”
Quintero, a 2018 All-Star in his first MLS season and clearly the best and most well-paid player on a losing team, led a winning United team this past season in goals with 10 — four of them on penalty kicks.
But he didn’t start his team’s two biggest games in 2019, both losses, coming off the bench instead as a second-half substitute.
The first was the U.S. Open Cup final at Atlanta on Aug. 27, after he led the lengthy tournament in goal scoring. Quintero subbed for Ozzie Alonso in the 75th minute. The other was United’s first playoff game, a first-round home loss to glitzy L.A. Galaxy on Oct. 20. He entered for Ethan Finlay in the 60th minute after he had felt ill two days before the game.
Quintero turned 32 in September. At season’s start, it seemed certain United would exercise the contract option to bring back its best player. By November, that wasn’t so, not after his uneven season when the team also signed younger midfielders Robin Lod and Thomas Chacon during the midsummer transfer window.
He played 30 of 34 games in a season when he was bothered by ankle, groin and other injuries.
Quintero scored 11 goals and had 15 assists in the 2018 season when he played 27 games for United after he transferred from Club America in Mexico’s Liga MX and signed as the team’s first designated player a month into its second MLS season.