Loons manager Adrian Heath consistently praised Kevin Molino as one of the best players in MLS when the attacker was fit and healthy in his four years wearing black and blue.

Minnesota United backed up that high rating, working to negotiate a contract extension with the Trinidadian midfielder during the 2020 regular season, and early in the offseason, the club shared they offered to pay him the max amount possible based on the league’s rules for free agents.

But Minnesota could not get a deal over the line with its leading scorer in 2020.

While Molino bid farewell to Minnesota in online posts in mid-December, his destination became official Thursday, Jan. 7 as the defending MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew announced his signing. The Columbus Dispatch reported it was a multi-year deal finalized from conversations over the past few weeks.

Crew president Tim Bezbatchencko said in a statement: “We know that this offseason, Kevin was rightfully so in high demand domestically and abroad. We are excited that one of the top players in MLS has chosen Columbus.”

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With Molino atop the Loons offseason to-do list, it’s unclear what direction the club will turn next as it tries to build on its appearance in the Western Conference final. There is a matter of “if” they will be able to get it done in time for the 2021 season, where that player might come from, how much he will cost and how quickly he could develop chemistry with uber-talented distributor Emanuel Reynoso.

That’s a lot of unknowns.

Molino, who had nine goals in the regular season, developed a playmaking partnership with Reynoso, the club’s record signing and maestro in the middle of the park. They contributed to each others’ goals in a 3-0 win over Dallas in the regular-season finale (one for Reynoso; two for Molino). Then the pair turned it up even hotter in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Reynoso assisted on all four of Molino’s goals, two apiece in the first-round win over Colorado Rapids and again the semifinal victory over Sporting Kansas City. But they didn’t combine in the 3-2 loss to Seattle Sounders in the West final.

Given the emphasis United put on retaining Molino, the only silver lining in his departure is the dangerous attacker didn’t come to terms with a Western Conference side that the Loons have to face multiple times a season.