Man on Fire

Fredy Montero turns a hard foul into motivation and runs through DC United.

Fredy Montero had every reason to be angry. After scoring the opening goal in the US Open Cup final against DC United Sept. 3, he looked up to see Josh Wicks stomping down on him, leaving the DC United keeper with a red card ejection and Montero cut and bruised.

Ten days later, Montero looked like a man set on revenge when he chased relentlessly after balls all over the field and battled for possession in the midfield.

One thing Sounders coach Sigi Schmid liked about the play of his top scorer was that, even after suffering three fouls in the game’s first 11 minutes, Montero remained focused on the task at hand.

“He didn’t lose his composure. He didn’t react to any of that. He kept plugging away. I thought it was a very mature performance,” Schmid said.

It was a bellwether game for the Colombian striker, who is third in Major League Soccer with 11 goals and has six assists to boot. Not only was he a force in the midfield, but he scored the game-winning goal in the 84th minute on a hair-trigger shot from inside the box that seemed to go through Wicks’ hands and into the net.

“He’s such a dynamic player, if he’s able to be physical (it sets the tempo),” said defender James Riley, whose brilliantly placed ball assisted Montero’s explosive goal. “I thought he did very well shedding off tackles and getting in on a few.”

Earlier in the game, Riley cut toward the penalty box from the right side and sent a cross into the box, only to have Wicks grab it out of the air. This time around, he played it hard to the feet of Montero going to the right side of the box and Montero converted it for the goal.

“He’s always a threat. That’s what goal-scorers can do,” Riley said. “He happened to get a half-chance and he turned it into a goal.”

It had been a streaky year for Montero, who scored three goals in the first two games of the season and looked like he would run away with the Budweiser Golden Boot. But then he went silent for seven games and it seemed like the league may have caught up to the frequent changes of pace and style of play of the 21-year-old star.

Then he scored in a 2-2 draw with Colorado May 23. Then it was a goal in five straight league games. Now he’s scored in three of the last four Sounders FC road matches, including the Open Cup final. Not coincidentally, the Sounders are 3-0-1 in that stretch away from Qwest Field.

“He’s been very good for the most part. I think he had a couple of phases when he drifted away a little bit in terms of his being able to have success and score goals, but I think also, as the season has gone on, that he has really matured,” Schmid said. “I think as the season’s progressed, he’s become more confident. He’s adjusted to the pace of the game while not losing his specialness and his own pace of playing.”

A big part of that maturation was staying on his feet amidst the punishment against DC United. His five fouls suffered increased his league-leading total to 53 and he even doled out some blows of his own. 

“It sets a tone for our team from the standpoint of not losing our composure and keeping the focus on our game,” Schmid said. “When we can do that, it makes us better.”

Montero and the Sounders are set to face Chivas USA Saturday at noon at Qwest Field in a meeting of two teams that are amidst the tight Western Conference playoff race.

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