There was a bevy of Cinderella stories that played out throughout the course of an unusual 2020 Major League Soccer season.
One of the more eye-opening was the run of fourth-seeded Minnesota United making a postseason sprint to the Western Conference Final. While United eventually lost to MLS Cup runners-up Seattle Sounders in a thrilling 3-2 match, it was just an accomplishment to reach the conference final in the club’s first season.
While he didn’t score or get an assist in the West Final, Loon’s star playmaker Kevin Molino managed four MLS Cup playoff goals in 2020, the first four of his career. That conference final game, as it turned out, was his final with the club after four seasons.
After the Columbus Crew sealed the signature of free agent forward Bradley Wright-Phillips in January, the league’s sixth-highest goal scorer of all-time, the defending MLS Cup champions, who beat Seattle 3-0 to win their second league title in early December, soon added yet another attacking option in Molino, a winger and creative midfielder, to a group that will be arguably the best in the entirety of MLS this season.
“The quality, you can go on and on,” Molino said of Crew’s attacking options in a recent interview with Black & Gold analyst Jordan Angeli. “Me and Nagbe have a good relationship we talk and message. ‘Anything you need let me know,’ he told me. He was part of it, (Nagbe’s) one of the best midfielders in the league. (Lucas) Zelarayan, too.”
While Molino may not be as flashy as the LA Galaxy’s Javier Hernandez and as big of a box office hit as LAFC’s Carlos Vela, his talent is undeniable. In 22 appearances throughout 2020, the 30-year-old finished as Minnesota’s leading scorer with 13 goals and was pivotal in their runs to both the West Final and the MLS is Back tournament semi-final.
What Columbus achieved didn’t go unnoticed by Molino. The squad that the Black & Gold built, including the aforementioned Nagbe and Zelarayan who were acquired last offseason and key cogs in the championship wheel, was enticing to play with but the intrigue of coming to play under a proven head coach in Caleb Porter, despite never working together, was a major pull for Molino as well.
“I’ve been a fan of Porter since Portland. I watched that team play,” Molino added in talking about what he enjoys about the prospect of playing for the Crew. “The good relationships he has had with Nagbe, (Gyasi) Zardes and the other players (I enjoy), I’m looking forward to being in Columbus and training with them.”
Since debuting with Orlando City SC in MLS in 2015, Molino has appeared in 104 league games while scoring 32 goals and contributing 27 assists. He averages a goal or an assist every 131 minutes of play throughout his career and Molino’s only gotten better with age.
In Minnesota, the midfielder made 67 regular season appearances (58 starts), notching 21 goals and 18 assists, which made him one of the most sought-after free agents available this offseason.
“Throughout his time in this League, Kevin Molino has been one of the most talented and explosive wingers in Major League Soccer, and he proved that not only throughout the 2020 regular season, but most recently when it mattered most, in the playoffs, on a team that was minutes away from an MLS Cup final,” stated Crew president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko after the signing was made official.
“Kevin will bring individual game-changing ability, with his smart and technical play, which will aid in our team chemistry with our other top quality attackers.”
Molino joins an attacking group loaded with talent, which includes Wright-Phillips, Zardes, Pedro Santos, Zelarayan, Luis Diaz and Derrick Etienne Jr. With a new downtown stadium on the horizon in 2021 and the club’s inclusion in the CONCACAF Champions League, the decision to come to Columbus wasn’t a hard one for Molino.
Looking for a club that had ambition was really all it came down to for the club’s newest Trinidad international.
“The new stadium, signing one of the best strikers in the history of the league, Bradley, and they just signed (Perry) Kitchen,” said Molino.
“The ambition there is to shoot for the stars and I want to be part of that. I want to be the best and I try to think that I am the best. That’s how you have to play and not to be second-best. It fits my mentality and personality.”