Fredy Montero is back, baby! The move to bring back the Seattle Sounders’ all-time leading scorer and fan favorite is an obvious feel-good moment. From a sentimental perspective, giving a player who’s kept a home in Seattle since he left after the 2012 season, and has expressed a desire to finish his career here, the opportunity to come back while he’s still got something to offer is a clear win. At 33 years old, it’s fair to wonder what exactly it is that ‘Supah Fred’ still has to offer after his years wandering in the wilderness. Let’s start there.
What can Fredy Montero contribute?
In short, Montero can still provide goals and assists, even in a diminished role. Montero might be 33, but his game has never been built on devastating speed or a particularly physical approach that may have been diminished as he’s aged. Sure, he may have had a small drop in those areas, but the impacts of that have been somewhat mitigated by a relatively light workload over the last few years.
Since Montero joined the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2017 he’s played a total of 6,632 minutes, averaging out to 1,658 minutes per year. In 2020 he started in 11 of his 16 appearances after opting out of the MLS is Back Tournament, playing just 1,059 minutes as Vancouver finished outside of the playoff places. During his last stint with Sporting CP from January 2018 to February 2019 he played 1,605 minutes across all competitions over parts of two seasons. He should still have plenty in the tank.
Just having legs left doesn’t mean much if a player can’t contribute. Great news! Montero’s still got the skill and talent that made him such a joy to watch in Seattle. In his 3,200 minutes with Vancouver over the last two seasons, Montero racked up 13 goals and 5 assists, good enough for just over 0.5 goals+assists/90 minutes. That combined total means he was involved in just under 30% of the 61 goals the Whitecaps scored over that stretch. Sure, 6 of those 13 goals were penalties — he was perfect from the spot, by the way — but even without those, his 0.33 g+a/90 is still decent.
Looking beyond the pure boxscore stats, Montero’s game looks even better. His non-penalty expected goals plus expected assists (npxG+xA) was a healthy step above his actual output at 0.49 npxG+xA/90. On a team surrounded by better players, it seems to make sense that he’d get closer to those expected numbers.
According to the numbers from American Soccer Analysis, among all strikers in MLS in 2020 that played at least 500 minutes, Montero ranked 10th in xG/96 minutes. He was 2nd in xA, and 7th in key passes. He was 6th in the league (with the same qualifications) in ASA’s goals added stat (G+), rating as the top passer and 8th best when it comes to dribbling according to G+. His game passes the eye test, too.
How does he fit in?
Montero’s signing is even further confirmation that Brian Schmetzer and his staff are serious about giving some kind of two-forward setup a shot in 2021. Whether that’s a 3-5-2, a 4-4-2 diamond, or some other arrangement of numbers on a page, the Sounders were looking a little thin up top. Behind Raúl Ruidíaz and Will Bruin, the only player listed as a forward on the first team roster was Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez prior to Montero’s signing. Alec Diaz could earn an MLS contract, but he’d still probably be best served by spending another season as the main man for Tacoma Defiance.
Montero should provide a serious boost off of the bench, or a reliable occasional starter when either of Bruin or Ruidíaz are unavailable. Beyond that, he always seemed like a positive presence in the Sounders locker room, and would certainly be a good player for guys like Diaz and Ocampo-Chavez to learn from.
How Montero fits into the tactical approach of the team will remain to be seen, to a certain extent. We’re not sure exactly what any new formation is going to look like, or how exactly Schmetzer’s going to adjust his team’s style in the absence of Jordan Morris. We can try to guess, though.
Given the strengths and skillsets of the accumulated talent, it seems to make sense that the Sounders will make controlling possession an even higher priority. They’ve got the technical ability and the movement within the squad to pull it off and make it look good, and adding Fredy Montero should provide a boost when it comes to moving the ball into the final-third or putting the ball into the back of the net once they get there.
Montero seems like he’ll make a good pair with any of the other forwards on the team, but ultimately the bigger question will be how he and Nico Lodeiro work together. There’s no reason to think that the two shouldn’t be able to make it work, especially with plenty of preseason for them to get acquainted. The two players have typically occupied similar spaces on the field, particularly in their respective times in Seattle, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make adjustments.
Working the ball in tight spaces will, obviously, require being close together, and both players can utilize their off-ball movement to occupy and open space for one another. Lodeiro has also spent time playing in more wide spaces with the Uruguay national team. If Montero is going to drop into that central space between the opponent’s back two lines, then it would make sense that Lodeiro could move into the channel to the left or right, where ever there's space. Lodeiro has never seemed to mind doing that.
What does this signing mean for the future?
At 33, Montero’s not necessarily a player that the Sounders are building their future on. For the time being, Montero will bolster the forward group. He’s not here to replace Morris, but he is going to make things more manageable between now and whenever Morris returns. That it seems like he’s joining the club on a pretty friendly salary doesn’t hurt, either. Montero’s signing should give the team time to figure out what’s going to happen with Morris next season, determine if one of the young guys can grab a starting position and hold onto it, and scout any potential Summer signings that much more thoroughly.
Given his age and presumed salary, Montero also shouldn’t be too much of an impediment to any prospects getting minutes either. Diaz is likely to see plenty of playing time with Tacoma, and should benefit from a full season as the focal point of the Defiance attack. Ocampo-Chavez will almost surely see time with Tacoma as well, and any minutes he earns either as a forward or a wide player in MLS should be seen as a win. If either of them were to make their way into the rotation ahead of Montero, it won’t be at the expense of a player on a DP or TAM salary.
Regardless of how things shake out on the field or in the box score, it’s good to have a Sounders Legend back in Rave Green.