MINNEAPOLIS - Darwin Quintero was stopped by soccer fans every few feet for autographs and photos while walking though Mexico City's airport terminal to his departure gate Wednesday, March 29.
Nicknamed "the scientist" after his namesake, 19th-century scientist Charles Darwin, the 30-year-old Colombian has built up a strong following in Latin America.
That support is now with him in the North. When the attacking midfielder's flight touched down at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport a few hours later, a coordinated fan welcome party greeted the first Minnesota United player set to receive a million-dollar salary.
"OHHH, DARWIN QUUUUINTEROOO! OHHH, DARWIN QUUUUINTEROOO!" about 25 diehard Loons supporters chanted when he walked through the arrivals gate at Terminal 2. He then signed autographs and posed for selfies.
In the club's year-plus in Major League Soccer, the Loons have been the only one of the 23 teams in the league to not have a "designated player," the highest budget line for signings under league rules. That is changing this week.
"It's a huge step forward for the club, something we've needed for a long time," said fan Charlie Piotrowski.
Quintero, a Colombian coming from Club America in Mexico's Liga MX, is in line to be Minnesota's first "DP," a source said. He will undergo a physical and plans to finalize his contract Thursday afternoon. With MLS approval, Quintero's signing is expected to become official Friday afternoon, the source said. Terms of the transfer have not been released.
As fans waited for Quintero to disembark from his connecting flight from Mazatlan, Mexico, and then pass through customs, a chauffeur arrived with a "Minnesota United FC" sign on her smartphone. Fans confirmed she was in the right spot but didn't necessarily think her services were necessary. They chimed in on how they were willing to give Quintero a lift in a family Ford Windstar minivan, or a Dodge Neon, or a Volvo or a Honda.
United's pursuit of Quintero included head coach Adrian Heath skipping training before the March 17 home opener against Chicago to fly to Panama with Loons sporting director Manny Lagos. They watched Quintero's playmaking factor in all three America goals in a 3-1 road win against FC Tauro in the CONCACAF Champions League on March 14. During the personalized trip, they started the framework for a transfer deal.
Quintero's debut won't come this weekend when United plays Atlanta United on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, but he is expected to begin training with the club next week in Blaine. That will bum out some fans eager to see his contribution to a team that didn't display a lot of gusto in a 3-0 loss to New York Red Bulls last weekend.
Diehard Mexican fan Blanca Uribe was the first person to arrive at the welcome party organized by supporters groups True North Elite and the Dark Clouds. She showed up at 7:30, with his flight set to arrive at 8:30.
"I heard the rumors, and when it was confirmed, I about fell out of my chair," said Uribe, a Club America supporter and United season ticket holder.
Some accompanying travelers on the same flight were startled to see fans dressed in the club's black and blue huddled around Door 6. One woman in a pink sombrero, with matching sunburned skin, played along.
"Hey!" she said. "We're here! Hola."
With anticipation building, a pilot came through the automatic doors and received a collective sigh from the fans. But the main event wasn't far behind.