Kevin Molino built a reputation as a lethal attacker with Orlando City last year — but also for after-hours forays.
While scoring 11 goals and distributing eight assists during the 2016 Major League Soccer season, he was reprimanded twice for breaking curfew to attend parties while in training camps with the Trinidad and Tobago national team.
Molino takes responsibility for attending an August boat party during training camp. “The first time was my fault,” he acknowledged to the Pioneer Press.
But Molino denies a second alleged slip-up in October — heading out late to visit a nightclub during another camp in October. Instead of playing in Caribbean Cup qualifiers, T&T coach Stephen Hart sent Molino back to Orlando City.
Orlando City coach Jason Kreis stayed out of the issue after speaking to Molino and didn’t further discipline him. Hart was later fired in November.
“I don’t know what that next situation (was),” Molino said. “It’s life, and I move on.”
Molino, 26, has a fresh start with Minnesota United and figures to be a focal point when the expansion franchise makes its MLS debut Friday in Portland. His 11 goals ranked 16th in the league last year, and his eight assists checked in at 19th-best.
The Loons pulled off a trade in late January to acquire the coveted playmaker, along with backup goalie Patrick McLain. In exchange for that front-loaded pair, United gave Orlando $650,000 from two MLS funds — $200,000 in Target Allocation Money and $450,000 in General Allocation Money — a total believed to tie the MLS record amount given up in a trade.
“He needs to reward the club and be a difference in making the club successful,” said ESPN soccer commentator Kasey Keller, a former Seattle Sounders goalie.
New United coach Adrian Heath had sought Molino from the first day he was hired to lead the Loons in November. Heath discovered Molino in Trinidad in 2009 and then, as coach of Orlando, helped develop him from 2011 until midway through the 2016 season when Heath was fired.
Molino earned $121,000 in Orlando last season, which was 13th-most on the club. He sought a new contract based on his outsized production, but those talks stalled. Heath said that contract dispute shouldn’t raise a flag on Molino being petulant.
Heath goes further to dispel any negative connotations about Molino’s character or work ethic. He cites a five-year relationship with Molino for his strong opinion.
“I know him inside and out,” Heath said. “I certainly have no worries about Kevin on or off the field. He is a delight to work with. He is a professional and a great teammate. What other people might say doesn’t really concern me because they have probably not been in his company or met him. In terms of that, it doesn’t concern me in the slightest.”
Beginning in 2011, Heath groomed Molino when Orlando City was in the third-tier United Soccer League. Molino was the USL’s MVP in 2012 and 2014, when he set a league record with 20 goals. Together, Molino and Heath won USL titles.
Molino was eager to make the jump to MLS, but seven starts into the debut season, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
“When I think about it, I feel like tears want to come out of my eyes,” Molino said. “It was the hardest thing that I’ve dealt with in my entire life because that was my dream, to bring the team up from USL to MLS.”
Heath shares how Molino attacked his 10-month recovery as a strong anecdote on how much he loves to play. Molino also said he welcomes another shot to play with his national team.
“I was worried about how he was going to take it,” Heath said. “After the initial shock for the first five or six weeks and trying to come to terms with it, his attitude after it was incredible. I don’t think anyone went to the training facility and didn’t see him working away. He’s worked very hard to get himself back.”
After Molino’s strong season last year with Orlando, United sought to acquire him throughout the offseason, and Molino has taken notice on how much the Loons coveted him.
“All I can do is repay them by, I wouldn’t say scoring, but the determination I show each and every day and when I put on the game shirt,” he said.