Replacing Fredy Montero's production is just a numbers game

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

A fully fit Steve Zakuani, an improving Eddie Johnson and a full season of Mario Martinez could easily more than make up for the goals Fredy Montero would have provided.

The thing about a piece of art is that it's value is not entirely quantifiable. Sure, you can put a price on it, but any number of people can disagree on its true worth.

Fredy Montero was somewhat similar. Sure, we can point at his 47 goals and 33 assists in four seasons of MLS play as quantifiable assets. But only looking at the numbers doesn't cut it. Montero provided something more, whether it was a steady stream of highlight-worthy plays, a sense that something unbelievable could happen at any moment or a remarkable ability to turn nothing into something. More than the goals, those are the things the Sounders are going to have a very hard time replacing.

Of course, those aren't the things that necessarily lead to victories and, as the Sounders enter Year 5 of their MLS existence, that's the most meaningful metric by which they are measured. It's a good thing, then, that the quantifiable part of Montero's game will probably be the most easily replaced.

The key thing to keep in mind is that the Sounders don't need to replace Montero with one player, although it would help us rest a little easier if they did. Essentially, it's a math problem and goals are the variable. The Sounders must replace Montero's 13 goals and, more broadly, need to figure out how to generate more than the 45 goals their five attacking positions scored in 2012. Their best hope relies on getting improved contributions from a handful of players:

Eddie Johnson (last year: 14 goals; projected 2013: 17)

At this point, it's sometimes easy to forget that Johnson joined the Sounders just a few weeks before the start of the 2012 season. When he got here, he was no where near fully fit and battled injuries throughout the first couple months of the season. Johnson missed the Sounders' first three league games and didn't go 90 minutes until May 9.

Once he was in shape, though, we started to see the player the Sounders had been looking for essentially since 2009. On May 19, Johnson scored one goal and assisted on another while playing 90 minutes of a 2-2 tie against the Vancouver Whitecaps. From that point until the end of the season, Johnson scored 12 goals and had three assists in 1,651 minutes. If he can maintain that production and play about 2,500 minutes, he'd be good for about 17 goals.

Steve Zakuani (last year: 1 goal; projected 2013: 9)

Much of Zakuani's 2012 was marked by a series of mini-accomplishments. First it was returning to full training, then playing in a match, starting, scoring and so on. It wasn't until the Sounders' final game of the season that Zakuani really looked like the player who was becoming one of the top attacking wide players in the league.

There's obviously no guarantee that he'll pick up right where he left off, but there's reason to think he can. Since his rookie year, Zakuani has scored at a rate of about .39 goals per 90. Assuming he can maintain that pace and earn about 2,000 minutes, he should be good for about nine goals.

Mario Martinez (last year: 0 goals; projected 2013: 5)

It's been well documented that Martinez was severely set back last year because of his late addition and constantly being called away for national team duty. Chances are, he's going to miss significant time again in 2013, but he should at least be better integrated. Realistically, I think it's hard to expect more than 1,500 minutes from him. What's harder to do is to project what kind of players he can be, considering how small the sample size of MLS experience is.

Martinez also offers the best candidate for replacing Montero's less quantifiable traits. In two preseason games, he's scored a pair of wonderful goals that seem to suggest he's capable of exceeding his past performances.

To come up with a reasonable projection, I looked at his recent international experience. Since breaking in as a regular contributor with Honduras, he's logged a little over 1,500 minutes between Olympic qualifiers, the Olympics, World Cup qualifiers and Copa Centroamerica. Add in 466 all-competition minutes with the Sounders and we have something we can work with. In a little less than 2,000 minutes, Martinez scored six goals with a handful of assists. If he can produce like that on the MLS level, we should be able to count on him for about five goals.

Lamar Neagle (last year: 0 goals; projected 2013: 3)

When the Sounders got so much goal-production out of their midfield in 2011, Neagle was a significant part. Now, he's back, even thought it's not entirely clear how he fits in. I'd imagine he'll be good for somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 minutes. Even if he just scores at his career average, that should result in about three goals.

David Estrada (last year: 5 goals: projected 2013: 7)

This is probably the biggest stretch of all the players I've listed, as it assumes Estrada produce at the same rate he did last year. In MLS play, Estrada's .44 goals per 90 was third on the team, just a hair behind Montero's .45. Is that really sustainable? Time will tell. I think there's reason to believe he can.

While there's a tendency to write off Estrada's five MLS goals as being somewhat fluky, I don't think they really were. Sure, one of them came off a deflection (against the Dynamo) but that was also a nice volley and another came off a scramble in front of goal. His other three goals were all very well taken. He also had a nice header to score against Santos Laguna and showed good alertness in scoring against Marathon. If he opens the season as the second starter at forward, he should be able to get to 1,500 minutes. At last year's production rate, that would be seven goals.

Team production

Player Projected goals Projected minutes
Johnson 17 2500
Zakuani 9 2000
Estrada 7 1500
Martinez 6 1500
Neagle 3 1000
Totals 42 8500

Obviously some of these playing time projections will change if the Sounders bring in a DP before midseason, but that would also change the goal projections. As it is, these five players could very reasonably account for 42 goals, just three fewer than the attacking positions scored in 2012. That's a pretty reasonable goal total to make up even if Christian Tiffert is on the team as it also leaves about 6,800 minutes to spread around to Shalrie Joseph, Brad Evans, Mauro Rosales, Alex Caskey, Andy Rose, Sammy Ochoa and any potential Designated Players.

Suddenly, replacing Montero doesn't seem quite so impossible.

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