PORTLAND – It’s only the preseason, but so far Kevin Molino is showing why he was so coveted by Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath when he took the reins of the expansion side.
Molino scored twice in Minnesota’s 3-3 draw against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday night, and had three total in the Portland Timbers' annual preseason tournament.
It’s just the latest promising sign of potential from the 26-year-old striker, whom Heath has coached almost continuously since Orlando City SC’s inaugural USL season in 2011.
“My expectations of Kevin are always the same,” Heath said, “I think he can be the best player in the league."
The 26-year-old Trinidad and Tobago international was a two-time USL Pro MVP under Heath before the team joined MLS in 2015. A torn ACL limited Molino to a handful of games that year. But he bounced back in a big way in 2016 to finish with 11 goals and 8 assists en route to being named an MLS Comeback Player of the Year finalist.
Molino insists his contract -- and not any disagreements with current Orlando City coach Jason Kreis -- is what led to his departure from Orlando.
"I had considered my contract and it was not giving me what I wanted, and what I thought I deserved,” Molino said on Thursday. “So I decided I wanted to move on.”
Having Heath at the helm helped made the deal possible.
“It was much easier for me to come to Minnesota because I've worked with Adrian before,” Molino said. “It was great to reunite."
Kreis replaced Heath in Orlando midway through last season. Molino did continue to start regularly after Kreis’ arrival, and denies the impression that there was any friction between the two.
“Jason had plans for the team, and I had a good relationship with him,” Molino said. “He showed me respect and acted professionally after I said I wanted to leave."
It took one of the largest transactions of allocation money in league history to bring Molino to Minnesota.
Heath, however, thinks his team got a bargain.
“Some people thought we gave up a lot of money to get him,” he said. “I actually thought we got him cheap. When I look at what the kid can do, he can make goals. He can score goals which is the hardest thing to do in football.”
It’s not quite clear where Molino will line up most often this season. Some describe him as a natural No. 10 who played out wide to make room for a Ballon d'Or winner in Kaká. This preseason, Molino has lined up in the wing, but has also drifted inward at times.
Heath insists it’s kind of a moot point.
“He can play anywhere he wants to play,” he said. “Wherever we play him, I know he’ll get in the box and score goals whether he plays underneath or as a striker or in wide area. It doesn’t really change.
“He always finds a way to get into smart positions in the box.”
Molino’s second goal Wednesday night, scored on a diving header after he sprung into the box, is just one example. The striker may be adjusting to a new team and a new conference, but he is very optimistic.
"The sky is the limit,” Molino said. “We are new to the league, as team, and a lot of players are new to the league. It's going to take time to figure it all out, and it will be hard. But nothing is impossible."