By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)
Two years ago I first composed a list of my top under-appreciated wide midfielders. Guys like Mike Grella, Kekuta Manneh, Patrick Nyarko, Lamar Neagle, Lloyd Sam and Sebastian Le Toux painted the top of my list. Again, no, I’ve never done work for DC United.
When sifting through some old USL numbers, which long ago went extinct due to the merger between USL and MLS, I came away enamored with Kevin Molino. He sat at the top of my list of wide midfielders and I ended up getting him for a steal in our fantasy draft that year.
It seems Molino is the type of player that in a lot of ways floats under the radar of many fans in Major League Soccer. This may be partially due to a wrecked ACL during an exhibition game in May of 2015 which ended his first season in MLS prematurely. The lost season forfeited most of the “possibly interesting” stock that was seeded him coming into the league when he had blown out the scoring and assist records in the USL.
However, after a resurgent season for Orlando in 2016 that saw him put home 11 goals and assist on another eight, his old coach Adrian Heath decided to spend big. He nabbed the Trinidad and Tobago attacker and brought him to Minnesota, sending a reported mixture of $650,000 in General and Targeted Allocation Money to Orlando City for him.
Despite recent headlines and articles inferring the need for Molino to step-up, he currently sits as the team leader in production for Minnesota, and ranks 15th overall in xG+xA (9.24), just ahead of teammate Christian Ramirez at 19th (8.45). Among those in the top-20 of xG+xA, he is the only one with double digit team touch percentage that also leads his team at (a rounded up) 12%.
That high of a percentage is actually an oddity for the position, as he plays in the same space as players like Nicolas Lodeiro and to a lesser degree Romain Alessandrini. He's playing as a ten and doing a lot of the chance creation, while also primarily operating from wide so as to provide width for the attack down the touch-line.
An underrated attribute of Molino is the depth and flexibility he provides to the roster playing out wide, which enables head coach Heath to experiment in the attack by providing minutes and starts to young and exciting players such as Abu Danladi as well as the more enigmatic types such as Johan Venegas who has shown promise, if not inconsistency, in his opportunities.
Molino may not be the guy that Heath billed early on this season as possibly “one of the best players in MLS this year.” But the hater crowd seems to be coming out of the woodwork as Minnesota has struggled with a lack of goals.
Goal scoring is rather nefarious and often polarizing in regards to those figures associated with the burden of carrying such a load. Despite all of that, and the added pressure that has come concerning the big off-season move, Molino has regularly stepped up and shown quality in possession, creation, and goal scoring through this season and even to a slightly greater degree than he did last year.
The goals will eventually return to TCF Bank Stadium and Molino will continue to be one of the most valuable pieces in the Minnesota attack. This is important to remind everyone every once in a while.