ST. PAUL -- Darwin Quintero provided a poignant reminder Sunday of how he can be Minnesota United’s talisman.
The Loons’ highest-paid player showed his worth with two goals in Minnesota’s crucial 3-1 victory over Real Salt Lake in a Sunday matinee at Allianz Field.
With the win, Minnesota leapfrogs Salt Lake in the Western Conference standings. The Loons (14-10-6) have 48 points, while Salt Lake (14-12-4) is stuck on 46.
After feeling hurt that he was left out of Minnesota’s starting lineup in the 2-1 loss to Atlanta in the U.S. Open Cup finale, Quintero scored in the 20th minute to equalize Albert Rusnak’s opening goal in the 17th minute.
Quintero sniped a second goal near post to make it 2-1 in the 51st. Ethan Finlay provided an insurance goal in the 83rd.
When Quintero subbed out in the 77th minute, he clapped for the supporters and gave coach Adrian Heath a quick handshake.
Minnesota holds a contract option for Quintero for the 2020 season, and on Sunday he helped improve the club’s position to make the MLS Cup playoffs. He nearly scored in the fourth and 46th minutes, but his shots either went off the crossbar or sailed just wide of the post.
Minnesota returned to its favorable 4-2-3-1 formation, with Quintero inserted to his typical No. 10 role after a one-game absence with a hamstring injury. He was flanked by Robin Lod and Kevin Molino. Striker Mason Toye went back to his striker role after being subbed out at halftime of Wednesday’s 2-0 loss to Houston.
The only other change from United’s regular back eight players was Will Moimbe-Tahrat at left back in place of Chase Gasper, who served a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation.
United paid tribute to former defensive midfielder and captain Sam Cronin before Sunday’s game.
Minnesota traded for Cronin early in their 2017 MLS expansion season, and the nine-year veteran helped stabilize a club in its infancy, playing in 18 games before head and neck injuries curtailed his career. He didn’t appear in a game in 2018 and retired before this season.
Cronin, 32, has moved with his family to his native North Carolina and will work in commercial real estate in Raleigh.