Fredy Montero made quite a name for himself in Colombia, but upon his arrival in Seattle prior to the 2009 season he was largely an unknown quantity. Montero twice led the Copa Mustang in goals scored and is a graduate of the youth system of storied Colombian side Deportivo Cali, the club that produced current Wigan Athletic striker Hugo Rodallega and legendary playmaker Carlos Valderrama. Fredy made his presence felt right away, scoring twice in the Sounders' first ever MLS game against the New York Red Bulls, and finished the 2009 season as the team's leading scorer with 12 goals. It was a tremendous arrival on the MLS scene for the then 21-year-old striker.
Last season didn't start off so well. Montero was unable to find his scoring touch early on and eventually found himself benched with Sigi Schmid being quite clear that his reasons for doing so were down to a perceived lack of effort. Schmid wasn't the only person that wasn't particularly enamored with Montero's performance, with many Sounders fans singling him out as one of the main reasons for the team's struggles early in the year. Montero was clearly a better player after the benching than before it, and much was made of the impact it had on his play.
I don't doubt that it had some effect, but I also think its impact was likely overblown. A lot of things changed over the course of last season; Freddie Ljunberg went away, Blaise Nkufo and Alvaro Fernandez joined the club and most importantly Fredy Montero's role on the team changed rather drastically. Graham McAree, currently of SB Nation Soccer, wrote this post about Fredy's transition to trequartista back in late August of last season. Whereas before Montero had before been an out-and-out striker, his move to a more withdrawn, creative position was a revelation. The change wasn't solely responsible for the Sounders' run of excellent form that drove them to a US Open Cup win and playoff berth, but it was a fairly large element of a more sweeping tactical change.
When a team is performing well, people stop looking for things to criticize. Where Montero had previously been chastised for a lack of hustle he was instead praised for his patience in the build up. Instead of being criticized for wasting chances with long range efforts that went just wide or high, he was lauded for his self-assurance when they began to find the target. Was Montero more effective in the latter part of the season than he was in the first? Most certainly. But it wasn't because he drastically altered his game; it was because the rest of the team was able to integrate him more effectively into theirs.
While the Sounders aren't off to as disappointing a start this season as they were last, things have still been frustrating. That's especially true where the attack is concerned, and predictably it has been Fredy Montero that has shouldered much of the blame. It's unfortunately fairly common to see this type of thing; people like to focus their ire, and what better target than a designated player who has scored just two goals and has something of a reputation for laziness? Never mind the fact that he missed several games with a broken wrist and is still wearing a cast during games, or that the team lost Blaise Nkufo hours before the first game of the season, Steve Zakuani a few weeks later and O'Brian White just days after that. Forget about the nagging injuries that have plagued Brad Evans, Mauro Rosales, Erik Friberg and Alvaro Fernandez all year long. Ignore the fact that Montero is at his most dangerous when he's allowed to exploit space, space that has not been there hardly at all this season due to the tactical changes necessary to compensate for all of the attrition the Sounders have had to endure. It's far more convenient to focus on Fredy's shortcomings.
After Montero's last start, in Seattle's 0-1 home loss to FC Dallas, Sigi Schmid said the following:
He needs to score. End of story. That’s what he’s paid to do.