Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Fredy Montero is still the leading goal-scorer in Seattle Sounders history. Seattle will be busy corraling its friend-turned-foe at BC Place Friday.
Fredy Montero, who scored a club-record 60 goals during the first five years of the MLS Seattle Sounders, will be on the pitch against his former club when Seattle makes the trip up I-5 to face the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first Cascadia Cup match of the season (7 p.m., Q13 Fox). The former Sounder, beloved by many fans, left the club for Europe in 2014, before returning to MLS this season on a loan from Chinese side Tianjin TEDA.
Montero joined Seattle for its initial campaign in 2009 on loan from Deportivo Cali in his native Colombia, scoring the first goal against the New York Red Bulls. In 2010, he was given the club’s third designated player slot at 23 with a base salary of $500,000, the highest-paid player on the team.
Montero was sold on to Sporting CP in Portugal in 2014, before making an eyebrow-raising move to Tianjin TEDA in the Chinese Super League, joining a wave of international players going to China on high wages in 2016.
Rules changes regarding the number of international players available to Chinese clubs, however, meant that Montero needed to find a new home. With most of his family living in the Pacific Northwest, the three Cascadia clubs became his preferred destination.
Vancouver (1-3-1, 4 points), depleted after deciding to not exercise contract options on Masato Kudo, Blas Perez and Pedro Morales after a disappointing 2016, spent dearly to get the number one spot in the allocation order to sign Montero. The Whitecaps traded $225,000 in allocation money and an international roster slot for 2017 to Minnesota United, owners of the order’s top spot.
Now, the 29-year-old Montero plays his first game against his former club in a match between teams off to sluggish starts.
Montero, speaking to Canadian media Tuesday, was unsure of what emotions the night will bring.
“I’m wondering how that feeling is going to be for me and all the people that used to support me,” Montero said. “I’m going to do anything I can to win this game, but it’s going to be special. I left Seattle and have always had a mind to come back to MLS.
“I’m defending the colors of a different team, which I’m proud of. I’m not thinking about my past with the Sounders. I’m just thinking about this game.”
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer recalled what made Montero so fascinating as a prospect when he and other technical staff went to Colombia to scout in 2008.
“I remember going to Colombia with Adrian (Hanauer) and (Sporting Director Chris Henderson) to scout Fredy. We saw this young kid with a ton of talent, and he spoke volumes on the field. He had the flair that we wanted.
“Then we had a dinner with his agent and some people, and he wouldn’t talk. He was shy, really quiet. We had to draw some personality from him. When you talk to him you think, ‘Wow, Fredy’s a really nice man.’”
Montero’s manners are part of why he’s fondly remembered in Seattle. His skill set, as described by Schmetzer, was the other reason:
“Fredy was street-smart. He was so good at figuring out ways to be better than the guy he was playing against. Sometimes, he would put his body in the way and get penalty kicks, other times he’d put it between a guy’s legs. It didn’t matter what method he used, he was always trying to out-think people.”
Seattle (1-1-3, 6 points) will have its hands full keeping Montero contained. Center back Roman Torres has been day-to-day with a hamstring strain that forced an early substitution against San Jose, while presumptive starting right back Brad Evans is still recovering from a calf injury that has kept him off the field so far in 2017.
If Montero finds the back of the net, he’ll be faced with the difficult choice of whether to celebrate against his former club, considered poor form by some in the soccer world.
Celebration or no, a Montero goal will mark a new era of the Colombian’s relationship with his former club: A nightmarish presence on a rival club who may play a decisive role in the series for years.