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Kevin Molino (right) and Osvaldo Alonso (left) celebrate Minnesota United's 3-0 victory over Colorado Rapids on November 22nd 2020

AN IN-FORM Kevin Molino plays an integral role in Minnesota United’s historic Audi 2020 Major League Soccer (MLS) Playoffs Western Conference semi-finals against Sporting Kansas City (SKC) on Wednesday.

The 30-year-old midfielder scored 11 goals and four assists in 18 games this season and, like the club, will make his first appearance at this stage of the competition.

Molino has consistently improved and worked his way back into the team, coming off the second ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tear of his career, which kept him out of action from March 2018 to April 2019.

He finished second to Los Angeles FC’s Bradley Wright-Phillips for the 2020 MLS Comeback Player of the Year.

This is, however, the T&T player’s final leg of his four-year contract with Minnesota. He is intent on finishing this season with his best performance ever.

“I need to bring intensity and the Caribbean flavor. Work hard, make and score a goal, show my quality on the field, work together for my teammates and we’ll see what God has in store for the team,” he said.

Molino joined Minnesota United in 2017 and has 14 goals and nine assists overall in 37 games. The fourth seeded 'Loons' are expected to face a competitive clash against SKC, the conference’s top seed.

Molino, though, believes his squad has the depth and determination to pull off a victory against a formidable SKU unit.

“The (team) mindset is good with the guys in the locker room. We just need to keep our heads and feet down and let our boots do the talking. It’s going to be a tough game but once we prepare, we have a chance,” he added.

Having already achieved a historic club feat by reaching this far in the MLS Playoffs, Molino is not satisfied and wants to climax a “challenging” year by lifting the coveted 2020 title. Last year, Minnesota United lost the quarter-finals against LA Galaxy.

“The vibes is good but the guys are humble about it. We always want more. We want the Championship crown. I think what I’ve been doing is not good enough, I need to do more. I need to always put in my mind that I can do better.

“Sometimes players misunderstand my passion and think that I argue but that’s my mentality, I want more, for everybody. This semi-final is not enough, it’s for an average player. You cannot compare yourself with average, you have to always think you are the best in whatever you do,” he added.

If Minnesota emerges victorious on Wednesday, Molino may lock horns with close friend and T&T midfielder Joevin Jones in the conference final. Jones plays for Seattle Sounders and contests the other Western Conference semi-final against FC Dallas on Tuesday.

During the downtime, the T&T pair linked up on a few occasions to train together and support each other through the coronavirus pandemic. Molino hasn’t returned home in over a year and as inspired as he is to play in Wednesday’s semi-final, the T&T player is also excited to return home.

He expressed pleasure in having the opportunity to fly the red, white and black in the US and hopes to be an inspiration to younger nationals seeking pro careers.

He continued, “Just like the Championship, it’s my dream to return to my country. However, I want to be an example to show the world that T&T still has a lot of talent. I want to represent T&T and serve as a model to the young ones. Like back in the days, when Dwight Yorke was a hero.”

Having been injured for over a year, Molino described this season as his best one yet. Owing to his ACL injury, the experienced midfielder admitted there were many trying times during his journey to recovery.

Being unable to play was the most hurtful part for Molino. He, however, was inspirited by the three-month recovery of Kieron Pollard from a similar ACL injury back in 2016. According to Molino, Pollard’s speedy comeback served as added motivation for him to mentally and physically get through his downtime.

“I was out almost for a year and a half, I didn’t play. Sometimes the meniscus acts up and irritates the hamstring a lot. Thank God I sacrificed and put in the work to strengthen my hamstring and do what is necessary to help my team.

“I’m also a big fan of cricket and of Kieron Pollard. He tore an ACL just like me and came back to become one of the best T20 cricketers. This is what we have to do as sportsmen, take a page out of our fellow athlete’s books and he’s a player I look up to,” said Molino.

The Eastern Conference semi-finals kicked off with Orlando City versus New England Revolution and Columbus Crew versus Nashville SC on Sunday.

Molino concluded, “It’s about the bunch of players (at Minnesota) and we work for each other. We just want to continue doing this, enjoying the team’s success and see where it takes us. But we’re not going to do it without pushing each other and a lot of hard work.”

SOURCE: T&T Newsday