On the surface, the idea of losing Fredy Montero seems pretty close to intolerable for any green-blooded Seattle Sounders fan. Since arriving in 2009, he's been their most consistent offensive threat and one of the most talented players in MLS. His departure will surely leave a huge hole, at least in the short term and based on the players that are currently here.
But it's also important to recognize that this will not be a move made in a vacuum. Even if the Sounders are unable to immediately replace Montero's Designated Player spot as long as this is a loan -- as I suspect -- this would be a move made with a bigger picture in mind. That bigger picture probably wouldn't entirely come into focus at least until midseason.
Assuming the reports are accurate, the Sounders seem to be setting this up as a trial for a bigger and more lucrative move. It seems highly unlikely that Millionarios is going to ever be able to afford the $4.5 million transfer fee no matter how well Montero performs, he could become a lot more attractive to the kind of clubs that could.
As crazy as it sounds, a few good games in a tournament like Copa Libertadores could do what 47 goals and 34 assists in four MLS seasons never could: convince a club in Europe, Mexico or South America to make a serious bid on a permanent transfer. If it works, this could go down as a genius move, short-term costs be damned.
A $4.5 million transfer fee would net the Sounders their full allocation ($650,000), while also filling their coffers for potential moves in the future. All of a sudden, making a serious bid to bring in someone like Joan Verdu at midseason starts to look very likely.
It's also important to consider that this might just be the first of several big moves. Osvaldo Alonso's future is still up in the air, rumors of Mauro Rosales are swimming around and the Sounders could always do something drastic like buy out Christian Tiffert's contract. Loaning Montero suddenly makes the possibility of the Sounders opening the season with none of their current DPs a realistic possibility.
In the short term, the Sounders would probably have to replace Montero with someone like Mario Martinez -- whose loan goes through June with an option to buy at that point. There's a good chance that Montero's salary would come off the books, which at least gives the Sounders room to make some smaller moves. But barring some change in course in the way MLS has previously done things, a six-month loan probably wouldn't free up a DP spot, which means a bigger move might have to wait until the summer transfer window.
All of this comes with some obvious risk. There's no guarantee that Montero will play any better in a few Copa games than he played in the MLS Cup playoffs. There's even less guarantee that he'll suddenly earn a spot in Colombia's loaded roster. At the end of six months, the Sounders could be faced with the less-than-ideal situation of needing to make room for Montero on a roster that will have been constructed under the assumption he wasn't going to be here.
Bringing back a player with as much talent as Montero is obviously far from the worst thing in the world, but at that point it will be pretty obvious that both he and the Sounders would rather he be somewhere else. Maybe he comes back better for the experience and more committed than ever to being in MLS. Maybe he seamlessly works himself back into the lineup. But that's why this deal is a risk.
I can't say it's something Sounders fans should be excited about, but it's the most clear sign yet that this team has bigger and better ambitions than what they've achieved up until now.