With Minnesota United coming to Banc of California Stadium for the first time on Wednesday, all eyes will inevitably be on the matchup of two players well-known for their connections to Mexican soccer.
Carlos Vela and Darwin Quintero.
The two Designated Players share a lot in common. Both joined MLS this season. Both are the focal points of their team’s attack. And both players are known for their ability to change a match in an instant.
And while Vela and Quintero lead their respective teams in goals this season, they have very different ways of going about their business on the pitch.
How They Got To MLS
Despite being a standout performer for the Mexican National Team over the years. Vela has never played a professional match for a Mexican side in Liga MX. Climbing the ranks of Chivas Guadalajara, Vela caught the eye of Arsenal during Mexico’s run to the 2005 U-17 World Cup title, and was off to Europe before ever featuring for the Chivas first team.
Vela would go on to play 12 years in Europe with teams in England and Spain, enjoying his best years with Real Sociedad. He was named Real Sociedad Player of the Year in the 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons, before securing a transfer to LAFC as the Club’s first Designated Player in August of 2017.
Europe was not so kind to Quintero, who joined Russia’s Krylia Sovetov from his native Colombia in 2007. But after just 11 appearances, the forward returned to Colombia.
In 2009, Quintero joined Liga MX club Santos Laguna. It was at Santos that Quintero established himself as a big name in the Mexican league. The forward scored 50 goals in his five years with the club, and helped them capture the Copa MX in 2014 before moving on to Club América.
Quintero continued his winning ways with the capital-city club, picking up consecutive CONCACAF Champions League titles in 2015 and 2016. He joined Minnesota United in March of 2018 as the first Designated Player signing in team history.
Contrasting Playing Styles
As versatile players with a tendency to go looking for the game instead of letting it come to them, Vela and Quintero can line up in any number of attacking positions.
Before the injury to Marco Ureña, Vela found himself playing more often than not in the No. 10 role behind a lone striker. At Minnesota, Quintero has lined up in a very similar position. Arriving after the start of the season, Quintero has played in half the games that Vela has. But through the first four MLS matches of their careers, Vela had three goals and two assists, while Quintero chipped in two goals and one assist.
But that is really were the similarities end on the pitch.
Vela’s style is much more deliberate and cerebral. He can beat his man off the dribble, but his linking up with teammates presents the most danger. A look at his play throughout the season shows his willingness to work combinations across the entire attacking third of the pitch. Despite not finding the scoresheet against Seattle in the first match at Banc of California Stadium, Vela’s pass map shows starting points for the LAFC attack from touchline to touchline.
Quintero is a bit busier on the ball. Relying on speed, his direct style puts defenders under considerable amounts of pressure. The Colombian averages 5.5 successful dribbles per match according to WhoScored.com, whereas Vela averages 3.5. And as you can see by his possession map in the last match against Vancouver, he’s willing to advance play by dribbling anywhere on the pitch.
Undoubtedly, as Vela and Quintero go, so do their teams. As the face off for the first time in MLS on Wednesday, we'll see which of the two styles emerges victorious.