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What’s a reasonable expectation for Fredy Montero?

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It might be helpful to look at what Diego Valeri accomplished at the same point in his career.

MikeRussellFoto/Sounder at Heart

When Fredy Montero first came to the Seattle Sounders, he was a fresh-faced 21-year-old who had only played professionally in his native Colombia. Montero returns to the Sounders as a relatively grizzled veteran at 33, who has played professionally on four continents and scored in 10 different countries.

But the idea that Montero is beyond the point where he can be a productive player doesn’t appear to be based on much actual data.

It’s true that Montero is not as dynamic as he was when he was 25. It’s also true that most of the metrics suggest that his ability to create goals hasn’t really diminished that much. In fact, his penalty independent xG and xA per 90 improved from 2019-20, and his G+ improved even more dramatically (going from -2.40 to 1.1).

Fredy Montero xG data

Year xG xA xG+xA npxG npxG+xA G+
Year xG xA xG+xA npxG npxG+xA G+
2019 0.32 0.1 0.42 0.19 0.29 -2.4
2020 0.45 0.17 0.63 0.32 0.5 1.1
FBref.com and American Soccer Analysis

With this baseline, I was curious what a realistic expectation might be for Montero this year. I started looking for players who had performed well in MLS during their age 34 season or later, and was a little surprised by what I found.

Since 2015 — which can reasonably be called the TAM era — there have been at least 21 seasons by 11 different players of that age who achieved at least 10 g+a in a season. The players fall broadly into two categories: one-time world-class players who came to MLS at a relatively advanced age, and established MLS stars who had enjoyed dominant seasons earlier in their careers.

In the first category are guys like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Didier Drogba, Robbie Keane and David Villa. In the second category are players like Chris Wondolowski, Kei Kamara, Clint Dempsey, Federico Higuain and Diego Valeri.

Of those, the one that I think has the most similarities to Montero is Valeri.

Valeri is almost exactly one year older than Montero. Both spent enough of their career abroad to know they weren’t just “good for MLS” but also spent enough time in MLS to know how they stack up here. Neither had played extensively for their respective national teams, which kept their total workload relatively low (both were right around 30,000 competitive minutes going into their age 34 seasons). They also play roughly similar roles, basically a trequartista. Most relevantly, their per-90 production numbers are very similar over their careers.

In Valeri’s age 34 season — last year — he turned in a very efficient stat line of 8 goals and 7 assists in about 1,600 minutes. That’s probably about the ceiling of what we can reasonably hope for from Montero, but it would also likely be a huge bargain considering the Sounders aren’t even using TAM to bring him in. If the Sounders can get anything like that production out of Montero, he might just prove to be the most impactful signing by an MLS team this offseason and it would almost certainly suggest the Sounders are right in the thick of the playoff pack.