Fri, Apr

Columbus Crew SC midfielder Kevin Molino (9) advances the ball against the Chicago Fire in the second half during the final game at Historic Crew Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

It’s known that the Columbus Crew’s 2021 offseason was productive and successful. The 2020 MLS Cup champions signed a healthy mixture of MLS veterans and new youngsters to add depth to its already strong squad.

The biggest signing made by the club last winter, however, was winger Kevin Molino from Minnesota United. He was expected to help increase an offense that finished middle of the pack last year after being the catalyst for the Minneosta attack in recent seasons. But a hamstring injury suffered in preseason had him sidelined for two months.

No longer. Last Saturday, Molino made his first appearance for the Crew as a substitute for 19 minutes in the 2-0 win against the Chicago Fire. Two days later, he was officially off the injury report, although his fitness continues to be a question.

With two matches this week for the Black & Gold, a Wednesday match at the Philadelphia Union and a Sunday road trip to Austin FC, Molino is ready to make an impact with his new club and finally kickstart the offense to greater heights.

“I have to thank the medical staff for doing a tremendous job,” said Molino on Tuesday. “I am happy to be here and happy to be in the game and get my first couple of minutes. I just want to build from here.”

The Trinidad and Tobago winger has been a productive winger in Major League Soccer since 2016 when he made 30 appearances and scored 11 goals for Orlando City SC. In 2017, he moved to Minnesota United and in his four seasons, he scored 21 goals for the Loons in 67 appearances.

“He’s a very good and talented player,” said teammate Pedro Santos. “He can help us with his qualities and he is getting better and getting minutes. I am happy for him.”

The expectations are high for Molino considering his 2020 campaign. Last season was his most productive year from a numbers standpoint, averaging a goal every other game for Minnesota and helping lead the team to the Western Conference Final. His 2020 MLS Cup playoffs was remarkable with four goals in three games, the leading scorer in the postseason.

As a winger, it’s not just his goalscoring the Crew look to add into the offense. It’s also some defensive responsibilities that head coach Caleb Porter requires of his wingers.

Throughout his career, Molino hasn’t been in a system that might require him to press high and play defense. He won’t have to live up to Santos’ remarkable defensive instincts or play fullback but it’s a new role that he will need to adjust to.

“I think that will be the biggest adjustment for him here is that side of the ball,” said Porter of Molino. “He wasn’t asked to do a ton defensively in Minnesota’s system but he was able to float in and out of games. He’s a very good attacker and yet in our system, he is going to have to play both sides of the ball enough.”

The defensive side of the game will be important for Molino but the Crew signed him for his offensive impact primarily. His Black & Gold teammates have seen what he can do on the training ground and are ready for him to get full game time to help propel the Columbus offense further than it has been in some time.

“He’s an incredible player,” said Gyasi Zardes. “He has so much flair and a lot of confidence. When he gets the ball, you know something is going to happen. I’m excited to see him back with the team. Once you see him on the field, you’ll see exactly what I am talking about.”