Eyes on the prize Image

Eyes On The Prize

While questions stir about Fredy Montero's future, he remains focused on the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Fredy Montero’s future has been a frequent topic of discussion of late - and throughout his time with the Sounders FC for that matter.

From the day he arrived at training camp in January of 2009, his name was instantly connected with a move to Europe.  With the passing of each transfer window, a new destination abroad is bandied about among soccer enthusiasts.

Although that will continue to be a hot topic, Montero’s focus on the future is pinned simply on Sunday night at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, where the Sounders take on the LA Galaxy in the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinals.

In the present, though, there are few like him in Major League Soccer when he is on his game.  He equaled Steve Zakuani for the team lead in goals in 2010 with 10 and matched that number in assists, putting him in the MVP conversation at some points during the season after his inaugural season in MLS when he notched 12 goals and 7 assists for the Sounders in 2009.

In that time, the city of Seattle has further embraced the 23-year-old Colombian striker.

“I am proud.  It’s not easy when you are in a new city, a new country.  This is my second year but I feel more special because the people around the city know Fredy Montero more than last year,” he said. “I enjoy the team.  I enjoy the city.  I enjoy when I play in front of 36,000 people.”

Adding to his comfort, Montero’s family now lives with him in his Bellevue home.  When he first arrived in Seattle, he and his brother stayed with a host family.  As the season wore on, the rest of his family joined them in a house.

The security of home took pressure off of the scoring dynamo and helped him earn MLS Newcomer of the Year honors. 

“When you go to practice and your family is at home and they make the food that you like … it’s home,” he said.

Those feelings have been amplified now that his whole family is learning English and adjusting to the American culture together.  Even still, like the team itself, it has been an up-and-down year for Montero on the field.

“This year was very hard for the team.  In the beginning of the season we didn’t play very good.  Then in the summer we became more dangerous, we started scoring goals and we are playing really good,” Montero said.  “Sometimes I felt like I was the one who had to score all the goals.  We had good games and bad games – we couldn’t find our equilibrium.  Now we have different players who can score every game.”

As the team turned for the better, Montero went on a run of scoring brilliance.  Over the course of nine consecutive MLS matches, Montero tallied five goals and six assists, registering a goal or assist in each of the nine matches.  After a scoreless draw with Chivas USA, he then netted a brace against the Chicago Fire that included a game-winning header in the 90th minute.

That, however, was his last goal in league play.  Few would dare to argue that Montero has not played well, but questions still arise about his scoring drought.  His last goal came September 1 in the US Open Cup semifinal against Chivas USA and he’d been held scoreless in MLS play since that match against the Fire on August 28.

However, his confidence has never waned and the coaching staff has not lost faith in the club’s all-time leading scorer.

“Forwards are always a little bit streaky in terms of what they do so we hope he runs into a good streak,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said.  “I think he understands what’s going to happen and that they are going to try and take him aggressively so sometimes he maybe needs to part with the ball a shade sooner.”

In that time, Montero has also expanded his game.  Whereas previously he was hesitant to cross over into the defensive side of the field, he now frequently drops all the way back to the top of his own 18 to make defensive plays that start Seattle attacks.  He admits that he focused more on his defensive efforts in the second half of the season and the results have been obvious.

Additionally, Seattle has gotten increased scoring output from several other sources on the field with the installation of Blaise Nkufo into the lineup and a surge in scoring from Nyassi to go with Zakuani on the other wing.

“We have different players who can score,” Montero said.  “Whether it’s Zakuani or Nyassi or Blaise – the last game against Houston, James Riley scored a goal.  We don’t have to have one player score goals.  The Sounders are a great team and you can find different players to score which is great for us.”

As for his recent struggle to find the back of the net, Montero is as eager as anyone to see his next goal.  However, he is not bothered by questions from media and fans about when that goal will come.

“I love to score goals, but this is not my first year playing professional soccer.  I know that if things aren’t going good, there will be pressure from outside influences.  I want the team to win the games,” he said.  “If I’m not scoring goals, but we are winning games, I’m happy.”

Added Schmid, “At the end of the day, he is a player who can put together some special pieces and Blaise as well is a player who can put together some special pieces and special players can be the difference in a tight game.”

Always driven, Montero is now vying not only to score because he wants to get the team back into the playoff match with the Galaxy, but because he wants to advance to the Western Conference Final next week.  It’s no secret that a win over the Galaxy would mean that the Sounders advance further in 2010 than they did in 2009.

“You always have to think forward.  Every year you have to be better,” Montero said.  “It’d be great if we can be Conference Champions and go to the final, but first we have to win this game.  We have to score goals to advance.”

For the first time in a ten-minute conversation (all in English, mind you), Montero brings up something beyond this Sunday.  Push him a little harder and he may bring up another date in the future - November 21 and the MLS Cup Final in Toronto.