Last Sunday’s draw with Sporting Kansas City was notable not only for the point earned, but also because it marked Minnesota United forward Abu Danladi’s return to the pitch after missing the last four-plus matches with a high ankle sprain.
Danladi was subbed on in the 74th minute and slotted in as a winger in hopes of creating a spark and he showed a glimpse of his ability to do so on a diagonal run late on. Danladi cut into the box and received a through ball from midfielder Darwin Quintero but was met by SKC goalkeeper Tim Melia. If Melia has been a step late or early, it could have easily been a goal or a penalty kick. The play was a promising sign moving forward for a player who has had to deal with more than his fair share of injuries in his young career.
“It has been frustrating,” Danladi said. “It was little knocks and really annoying injuries, but it is over with and I am almost 100 percent. I am looking forward to what is to come, the games ahead and trying to help the team as much as I can. I am glad I got the opportunity to get some minutes.”
MNUFC’s depth has been tested early on as numerous players have been in and out of the lineup. Danladi’s comeback is a step in the right direction for a team that needs to get bodies back, but Head Coach Adrian Heath is still having to rely on players who are not at full match fitness.
Quality depth is integral in a league as unforgiving as MLS. Heath and his staff have discussed organizing games in addition to the team’s regular Monday through Friday work in order to get more fitness into the guys who are not playing because they are going to have to step in and rise to the occasion over the next few weeks.
“It is good to have Abu back. We could certainly do with him in the team,” Heath said. “One of the big challenges for all of the coaches is keeping the people who are on the sidelines in a really optimum shape so when their opportunity comes they can take it and look sharp. That is an issue and a challenge for us, but we are managing the best that we can.”
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: QUINTERO ROUNDING INTO FORM
Here is a frightening thought for the Loons’ opponents: Despite three goals and an assist in seven matches, Heath believes Quintero still has not reached his full potential.
Part of that belief comes from Quintero’s continued adjustment to MLS and working up to full fitness, but it also involves his still-developing chemistry with fellow attacking midfielders Miguel Ibarra and Alexi Gomez, and forward Christian Ramirez. That is improving week-to-week as they get to know where Quintero wants the ball, and it shined as Ibarra set him up for last week’s match-tying goal.
With Ibson out last week, Quintero had more room to operate higher up the field and proved adept at receiving passes under duress, turning out of trouble and attracting people to the ball.
“We are getting to know what Darwin is all about now,” Heath said. “Some of his qualities and some of his little turns and through balls were magnificent on Sunday. That will only continue to grow as we get to know each other that much more.”