On Monday, the Columbus Crew announced that new signing, winger Kevin Molino, will miss six to eight weeks with a hamstring injury. Columbus is taking precautions because of a fear that this most recent injury is linked to past injuries. One that, if it returns, could sideline Molino for much longer.
Molino has only been with the Crew for a short time but injuries have already become an issue. The first-year winger, who signed as a free agent this offseason, missed a sizable chunk of the preseason with hamstring issues that kept him from joining his national team and meant he only played in the team’s final scrimmage.
In 2018, during his second year with Minnesota United, Molino tore his ACL on March 10. An injury of that magnitude left Molino out of the Minnesota lineup until April 19, 2019. A crucial piece of an ACL tear, and surgery, is the recovery time and regiment needed to get back to 100 percent. Talking with the media on Monday, head coach Caleb Porter said these most recent issues think there’s a connection.
“It’s probably a little bit tied to his ACLs as well and the rehab of that,” said Porter.
While it may appear cautious to keep Molino sidelined for up to two months, ACL injuries are known to recur if not handled correctly the first time. Molino is no stranger to this, as 2018 wasn’t his first tear.
Molino played for then USL side Orlando City from 2011 to 2014. When Orlando made the jump to Major League Soccer, Molino played just the first seven matches of the season. On May 7, 2015, he tore his ACL for the first time in an early season friendly.
He returned for the beginning of the 2016 season, and proved he was healthy. During 2016 and 2017, Molino played the most minutes of his Major League Soccer career. He started 56 of 60 matches across time with Orlando in 2015 and Minnesota in 2016. This was also the most productive period of his career, scoring 18 goals and assisting on 17.
Since 2017, Molino hasn’t played a full season. In his return from his second ACL tear, he made 11 starts in 17 appearances. Last season’s COVID-19 impacted season saw an increase for the Trinidad & Tobago international. He played 18 games and was part of 11 goals scored (nine goals and two assists). While he was trending positively, Molino also missed time for a hamstring injury.
During the 2020 MLS is Back tournament, in Orlando, Florida, Molino left Minnesota’s second group stage match at halftime. He missed United’s final group stage match and the Minnesota penalty kick victory against Columbus. However, the winger returned to the side as a substitute in its 3-1 tournament semifinal loss to Orlando City and played much of the Phase 2 and 3 restarts, starting the final seven matches of the year.
While his first months with Columbus hasn’t been what he expected, Porter believes Molino it’s worth the wait.
“He’s a great player,” said Porter. “He’s an unbelievable talent. It’s just too bad that he’s going to be out for the next couple of months because he does have a lot to offer our team and he brings some different things in terms of creativity.”
The focus for Columbus’ medical staff is strength and conditioning. Their goal during his time away from match action is to bring his legs and hamstrings to a strength level so these recurring problems don’t turn into something worse. Columbus doesn’t want to repeat mistakes that led to the first and second ACL tears or see Molino continue to miss games with minor hamstring issues.
Luckily for Columbus supporters, the 2020 MLS Cup winning team still has a strong core. The entire starting 11 from the 3-0 victory against the Seattle Sounds in the MLS Cup Final are back. Once Molino’s strength is up to a level that is comfortable for Porter and medical staff, the team will get even better.
“These are tricky, these injuries, and we certainly want him in now but it’s really important that we get him right,” said Porter.