Sat, Dec

Columbus Crew's Kevin Molino (second from left)

It hasn't taken new Columbus Crew SC signing Kevin Molino to leave a positive impression on his new bosses.

Molino signed with the Crew this winter after a number of years with Minnesota United and was widely regarded as the top free agent on the market. The winger has been battling a minor hamstring injury this preseason, making his friendly debut on Saturday against Orlando City SC, but the early signs are strong.

“When you see some of the things he does in training, it’s a different level," head coach Caleb Porter told media on a virtual press conference. "Some of the ideas, the stuff he pulls off. Once we get him fit and sharp, he’s just got a little different individual creativity. The combination with him, Lucas [Zelarayan] and Pedro [Santos] has been fun.”

Molino enjoyed one of the best years of his career in 2020, with nine goals and four assists in 18 appearances (15 starts) then another four goals in three playoff games. The 30-year-old has 32 goals and 27 assists in 104 career MLS matches and was twice named USL PRO MVP before making his MLS debut. 

He was a sought-after free agent, and Minnesota didn't want to see him leave, but Molino is excited about his future. 

“Just watching the way how Columbus played was really exciting," Molino said. "It was an easy choice for me to come over.”

Molino adds to an already deep and talented attacking core, led by MLS Cup MVP Zelarayan and Santos, as well as Gyasi Zardes. Molino is expected to start at left wing amid that quartet when he's fit and the club are at full strength. 

“He’s a very creative player," Porter said. "He brings a little bit different of a profile. He can unbalance teams off the dribble, plays a lot of combinations and one-twos. He’s a really good final third player, very clever. I’ve seen a lot of nice interplay with him, Gyasi, Lucas and Pedro. We just have to give that time to gel.”

CCL fever

Molino could be in line for his competitive debut with the club on April 8 as they embark on their Concacaf Champions League run. They face Nicaraguan side Real Esteli and are big favorites. 

“We’re not where we want to be yet, but we just need time," Porter said. "That first game, I hope we’ll have a good performance. Not as good as we want but hopefully good enough to win.”

While the Crew haven't participated in CCL since 2011, backup goalkeeper Evan Bush is a player with more recent experience in the competition. He was the starting goalkeeper for CF Montreal in their memorable run to the final in 2015, losing to Club America in the final. He thinks Columbus has what it takes to mount a run.

“You need depth, which I think this club has," Bush said. "When healthy, our roster is up there with the top roster in the league. You need quality, which we also have.”

That's not all an MLS team needs to have to navigate the CCL, particularly on trips south when playing away from home. 

"You need to be able to play the game that Concacaf demands you play, if that makes sense," Bush said. "A lot of teams are going to try to do things to get under your skin, make the game choppy, bait you, tackle you, those sort of things. You can't let it affect you."