[UNDER THE MICROSCOPE] Last year’s MLS Newcomer of the Year has recovered from an early-season slump to regain his status as one of the league’s most dangerous attackers. Fredy Montero is back in form and that's bad news for Seattle's opponents.
The tricky and sometiimes petulant striker of 2009 has matured into a more refined forward. There are flaws that have yet to be corrected, yet at age 23, he's rapidly becoming one of the best young goalscorers ever signed by MLS. He's proving to be effective in league play as well as other competitions.
For the second leg of the Concacaf Champions’ League series Tuesday against Salvadoran club Isidro Metapan, Montero was partnered with forward Roger Levesque rather than recently acquired Blaise Nkufo, who has yet to regain match fitness.
Levesque and Montero started the match high up the field, applying moderate pressure to impair their opponents’ efforts to build play out of the back. They also moved constantly in search of space, and after a ball along the ground intended for Montero was intercepted in the opening minutes, he motioned for his teammates to play the ball earlier and into space.
Two minutes later, right back James Riley clipped a ball up the touchline that Montero took further into the attacking half to win a throw-in, and after another couple of minutes a chip from Oswaldo Alonso sent Montero into the penalty area, where he lost a duel with defender Milton Molina and was whistled for a foul.
Balls won by the back line were often played quickly up to Montero, who dribbled deep into the Isidro Metapan half. Another variation would find Montero coming back into midfield and right mid Sanny Nyassi taking his place as Levesque’s forward partner. Nyassi got in a long-distance shot from a central position in the 15 th minute and pulled it wide.
Less than a minute later, Nyassi drifted wide to play a ball inside to Montero. He twisted away from pressure on the edge of the six-yard box and squared a ball that ran a yard behind Steve Zakuani -- who had switched sides with Nyassi -- stationed at the far spot. This interchanging of positions and roles was cited by Coach Sigi Schmid in preseason as one way to broaden the abilities of both Zakuani and Montero, both of whom filled rather limited roles last year.
After Alvaro Fernandez’s goal in the 78th minute, which meant Isidro Metapan could only advance by scoring twice to win, 3-1, Montero checked back to gain possession and kill time. More than once he wound up face-first in the mud, courtesy of a harsh, desperate challenge from behind. As early as the 26th minute he’d drawn a foul from Ernesto Aquino, who bundled into him and drew a caution.
These facets of play were rarely seen consistently from Montero last year, when he finished among the league leaders with 12 goals yet drifted out of games for long periods. There have been several spectacular moments in 2010, such as the diving point-blank header he scored against Philadelphia in the season opener, a booming 40-yard free kick against Dallas in May, and the only goal of a 1-0 victory in San Jose three days prior to the game in San Salvador on which, if scoring rules permitted it, he could have received an assist.
“I thought the goal was as good a goal as we’ve scored this year in terms of the combination play that led to it," said Schmid. “It was a great goal but besides his goal, Fredy’s giving us a tremendous workrate off the ball: His willingness to hold up the ball for us as well, and show up in different spaces. I think Fredy is growing and maturing as a player, and bringing out those different elements.”
That goal against San Jose represents perfectly Montero’s more rounded game. From the center of midfield, he played the ball wide to Nyassi and as he glided through the middle into the penalty area none of the Quakes picked him up. He punished their slackness with a powerful header of Nyassi’s cross that keeper Jon Busch had no hope of stopping. Earlier in the match, Busch had robbed Montero of a goal by pushing his header onto the crossbar. On the hour mark Montero set up Nkufo in the goalmouth with a neat flick floated over the head of a confused defender.
The two goals and three assists Montero recorded in July earned him MLS Player of the Month honors and played a huge role in the Sounders amassing 10 points in their last four league games. He scored his seventh league goal against San Jose -- extending his run of games with either a goal or an assist to eight -- and is among the league leaders in assists with eight, one more than he recorded in 29 games last year.
“You see what Fredy Montero’s done,” said keeper Kasey Keller after the San Jose win. “I don’t know who lit a fire under him but I’m going to keep stoking that fire. I’m happy for him.”