When Kevin Molino came to Minnesota United in January through one of the biggest trades in Major League Soccer history, expectations for the midfielder were astronomical. His former club Orlando City SC banked $650,000 in allocation money in the deal for the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, with 42 goals, and assist man, with 31, since 2011.
But with United, the Trinidad and Tobago national team member hasn’t quite reached the heights coach Adrian Heath, who discovered Molino and brought him to the United States with Orlando, has hyped.
After the Loons’ 4-0 victory over D.C. United on Saturday, though, those sky-high hopes seemed more within reach. Molino assisted on United’s first two goals, from forwards Christian Ramirez and Abu Danladi. His pass over the top of the defense on Ramirez’s score made the goal “especially” excellent, according to Heath.
“The ball he put in for Christian for the first goal is as good as you’ll see,” Heath said. “But I expect that of him. That’s why we paid the money that we did for him. He can create with the best of them. He still should be getting 10 goals a season because that’s what we set him. So he’s got a long way to go to get them. But that’s the aim.”
Heath has said on several occasions that he believes Molino will end the season with a double-double in goals and assists. In 20 matches and 20 starts with United, he has five goals and seven assists.
For the past three or four weeks, Heath said, Molino has been dealing with a bad ankle that almost kept him out of matches. But Saturday was “probably the fittest he’s felt,” according to Heath, which makes his performance easy to understand.
It was Molino’s first assist since June 24 and his first multiple-assist match since April 1. Molino’s most recent goals came when he scored twice at Toronto FC on May 13.
Molino has played on the wing for United and as more of a No. 10 playmaker — an attacking center midfielder. And on Saturday, he seemed to have found his place on the pitch.
“I wasn’t even looking at him. If you watch the tape, I just took off because I knew the ball would be there,” Ramirez said on Molino’s pass on his goal. “He was staying higher up the field and centrally, which is where we need him, especially if he’s going to play the 10, so that I’m not so isolated up top. And it keeps those two center backs really honest with me and not knowing when to step to him. He got involved real early.”
As for the pressure to produce, Molino said he’s “done it in the past” so there’s no reason he can’t repeat with a new club. But the midfielder did acknowledge that it’s harder now, as “everybody knows” him and marks him, and he has to be mentally stronger to push through that.
“I think now is the turning point,” Molino said. “I haven’t scored in quite a time. But for me, the most important thing is not just I score and then we lost. The most important thing is us as a group winning and reaching close to playoffs. And now, this is going to boost my confidence.
“Just happy. Just happy to get a notch closer to where we want to be.”