With injuries and national team duty depleting his team’s ranks, Darwin Quintero knew this was no time to take a break.
While many star players will sit out U.S. Open Cup games for the sake of resting ahead of several more months of MLS play, Minnesota United’s playmaker wasn’t ready to relax.
“Darwin was the first guy to say, ‘Hey, I want to be a part of this game,’ ” teammate Ethan Finlay recalled Quintero saying after training Tuesday. “ ‘It’s one game. It’s a cup final. And every one from here on out is a final for us.’ I love that mentality.”
The Loons rode that survive-and-advance ethos — and Quintero’s two goals and one assist — to a 4-1 drubbing of an equally ravaged Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday at Allianz Field in front of an announced crowd of only 7,211. It was only the second time in the past 10 meetings United has topped its regional rival.
“I wanted to start because these are direct elimination games, there are no more opportunities after [Wednesday] if you lose this game,” Quintero said in Spanish through a translator. “I think this is where hierarchy is shown and where every player wants to be. I told all my teammates that [Wednesday] we have to win. There is no other game to turn it out. It was today or nothing.”
The Loons matched their best performance of the tournament, advancing to the round of 16 in the competition that pits all levels of U.S. Soccer against each other for the second consecutive year. A draw Thursday will reveal United’s next opponent, and the game will take place sometime between June 18-23.
Coach Adrian Heath fielded a hodgepodge lineup of some starters and some depth players. But he came out of the game with the best of both worlds.
“Some of the guys needed minutes, and some of the guys needed a little bit of a confidence booster in front of goal,” Heath said. “And we got all of that.”
Quintero had not impacted the score since April 19. Forward Angelo Rodriguez’s drought started after April 28. Winger Ethan Finlay had only one goal to his name for this season from a month ago after missing all of last season because of an injury. All three scored Wednesday.
Rodriguez beat Kansas City goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas in the second minute of the game off Quintero’s assist. Kansas City found the equalizer in the 27th minute from forward Gerso Fernandes’ bouncing volley, but that was the team’s only breakthrough.
The Loons kept up with the fast starts, Finlay scoring in the first minute out of halftime. About 10 minutes later, Rodriguez scored, too, setting up Quintero’s first goal. Another 10 or so minutes later, the pair combined again for Quintero’s brace.
Heath called out midfielder Hassani Dotson — who assisted Finlay’s score — and defenders Chase Gasper and Wyatt Omsberg for solid games as young players looking to appear in the lineup more consistently.
And as far as United’s ability to continue on in the Open Cup, and even win — with a trophy, CONCACAF Champions League spot and prize money as a reward — the coach was firm in his assessment.
“Yes,” he said, “we can.”