As part of our “10 Years in MLS” campaign, former Seattle Sounder Steve Zakuani winger sat down with some of the club’s most influential players over the past decade in a Mini-Documentary series presented by adidas entitled “Once a Sounder.”
This is also a lead feature in Issue 18 of Sounders Monthly, Sounders FC’s original magazine. They are available for free at The NINETY, GuestLink Services locations, Soccer Celebration and Membership Central.
[Ed. Note: This interview took place before Montero signed with Vancouver on Feb. 15, 2019]
STEVE ZAKUANI: How did your move to Seattle happen?
FREDY MONTERO: I was back in Colombia playing for Deportivo Cali. I remember after a game, I had to go to one of the owners’ house, and I had the opportunity to meet [current VP of Soccer & Sporting Director] Chris Henderson and [current Head] Coach [Brian] Schmetzer. After that meeting, I remember going back to my house and calling my parents and saying, ‘Hey, be ready because soon the news is going to be out there. I’m going to be transferred to MLS.’
SZ: What did you expect when you moved to Seattle?
FM: The first thing I was thinking about when I arrived to Seattle was where I was going to live. I want to be able to speak Spanish. Do I need a translator? Google didn’t tell me anything. We arrived, and I didn’t know anyone. It was snowing. I saw it through the [airplane] window when we landed at Sea-Tac. That was a shock. I never experienced snow before. Coming from 40 to 45 degrees [Celsius] in Barranquilla [Colombia], where I was on vacation, that was an extreme change for me.
Montero celebrates with Zakuani | Rod Mar
SZ: What was your life like then when you first got settled?
FM: We had a person who was driving us around, we were still looking for a house. I remember Ozzie [Alonso] and I were going to every single appointment together, telling him, ‘I don’t like this house, I don’t like this house either.’ When we went to restaurants, nobody spoke Spanish so we had to go to someone in the kitchen to tell us, ‘This is steak, this is pasta,’ or whatever you want to eat. And then we had that menu and went back to the waiter and we pointed that to him.
“With all due respect for the guys who came after, we made what Seattle is now.” — Montero
SZ: What do you remember about the inaugural match in 2009?
FM: I remember [Head Coach] Sigi [Schmid] talking to us, ‘Just do what we did in preseason. Go have fun and enjoy, it’s going to be a loud crowd, but don’t let that make you nervous.’ For me, everything was new: the anthem, the fireworks. Scoring the first goal, that was something I was dreaming about.
SZ: Did anyone in Colombia watch the game?
FM: I think they watched the highlights afterward, but for sure I wanted to go to the locker room and call my parents and say, ‘The first game I scored two goals. I’m here and everyone knows who I am now.’
SZ: You were just a young kid at the time, how were you so confident?
FM: I always believed in my technique. That’s something I’ve been working on through the years. I don’t like when I lose the ball easily because that’s who I am.
SZ: We won our first trophy as a club that year, the 2009 U.S. Open Cup title. What do you remember about that?
FM: The first one is always the one that is going to be in your memory forever. I scored one goal, Roger Levesque scored the second one. We won 2-1. I remember the goalkeeper stepped on me and he got a red card [laughs]. Then we were celebrating.
SZ: What was the best goal you scored in Seattle?
FM: It was in New England. I started from the middle of the field, I started dribbling past two or three opponents, which I don’t remember doing that often. I just saw Steve Zakuani dribbling by people like they were cones. Maybe that day I had [Steve’s] boots [laughs]. I shot from distance and the ball went higher and then came down and it was an amazing goal.
SZ: How do you talk to people now about your time in Seattle?
FM: Seattle gave me a lot. When I came to Seattle, I wasn’t looking to stay there for many years. As a young kid, you say, ‘OK, one year maybe here, you prove yourself, you gain this confidence and then move to Europe.’ But the second year I had the opportunity to stay with Seattle and we had a really good team. When I realized that, ‘Yes, I’m here now, I’m going to focus on this team, I’m going to focus on me,’ that’s when I started to move forward, started to speak the language, trying to establish myself with the culture, and I’m happy that I met my wife in Seattle.
“Seattle is a good location, it’s a great city...it has all these things that we want for our kids.” — Montero
SZ: Sigi Schmid passed away recently. How important was he in your career?
FM: Without Sigi, if I met another coach, it would have been difficult for me. The transition of coming from a different culture, a different game, the style — he gave me confidence. He knew that I was a kid, that I was coming to a new place. With the experience that he had, I thank Sigi for every single moment, not only on the field, but off the field. Sometimes I had the opportunity to meet him in a coffee shop and talk to him, and he would tell me the things that I needed to do better to get on a good level.
Montero celebrates a U.S. Open Cup title with Kasey Keller | Corky Trewin
SZ: After you left the Sounders, you traveled all over: Millonarios in Colombia, Sporting in Portugal, Tianjin TEDA in China, the Vancouver Whitecaps, back to Sporting and now with Vancouver again. What have you learned from traveling and playing all over the world?
FM: The most important thing I’ve learned from soccer — in the past five years we moved to four continents: South America, Europe, Asia, North America — you have to be a good person. Fans will love you, fans will remember you. We had the potential to move to different teams. You show who you are as a player. That’s what I always try to do. I play my game, I don’t try to do something different from what I am.
SZ: Despite living all over, you decided to open a coffee shop in Seattle. Why Seattle?
FM: Seattle is where I met my wife. Seattle is where my church is. I have a lot of friends there. When we look back, my wife and I, we ask what the best place is to raise our kids. Seattle has all these things that we want for our kids. Seattle is a good location, it’s a great city, there are nice parks and nice people.
SZ: Everyone was really close on that 2009 team. How do you describe the bond that was formed?
FM: When people talk about Seattle, I remember our group, 2009, 2010, 2011. With all due respect for the guys who came after, we made what Seattle is now. We set the foundation. We still talk to all the guys, and when we see each other — once in a while I see James Riley — it’s like we played yesterday. That’s what I feel. It’s something that’s always going to connect us because we started from zero, and now 10 years after that, we still have that memory and that connection.