The All-Star forward kept his focus after sitting on the sidelines for an hour Saturday, immediately scoring when subbed on.
Sit on the bench for the first hour of a match and your mind can start playing tricks on you. The questions in your head, like ‘Why am I not starting?’ and ‘Why is he on the field instead of me?’ can rob you of your concentration.
Sit for an hour and you might feel yourself getting angry, anxious and over-amped, so that by the time you get the call, you’re in no position to perform.
For the first 60 minutes of Saturday’s hugely important derby with the Vancouver Whitecaps, Sounders FC’s all-time leading goal scorer and MLS All-Star Fredy Montero was on the bench.
He had missed the previous day’s practice, an excused absence because of a medical emergency involving a family member, and now for the second straight game, Montero was out of the starting lineup.
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“It wasn’t a punishment,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said after Saturday’s 2-0 win. “We just wanted to make sure his mind was clear going into the game.”
Montero could have seethed while he sat. He could have pouted. He could have been distracted. Instead, he responded the way every coach hopes his players will respond. Montero came in at the 61st minute and blew up this derby.
Three minutes after he entered, on his first dangerous touch, he took a ball in the box that Jeff Parke chested to him off a free kick and drilled the game’s first goal past Caps goalkeeper Joe Cannon.
In this win that put the Sounders in third place in the West, three points clear of Vancouver and Los Angeles, Montero became the Sounders’ man of the (half) hour.
“If you’re angry, you cannot score,” the Sounders’ new midfielder, Christian Tiffert, said. “If you think about it — why you didn’t start — you cannot score. You cannot sit on the bench and wonder what the reasons are. But you can see that he’s approaching it the best way to show Coach that he wants to play.”
This won’t be his role, but Montero’s game seems suited for a super substitute. His work rate against the Whitecaps was frenetic. He was always lurking, taking some of the attention off his up-front partner, Eddie Johnson.
He came into the game fresh and ready to play, and he outworked the weary Whitecap defense.
A lot of all-stars wouldn’t do what Montero did. But he has shown a knack for entering games and changing the contest’s personality. In 10 appearances off the bench with Seattle, Montero has scored six goals and assisted on two others.
“Fredy wants to play the whole game,” Schmid said. “He’s a team guy. He’s very respectful of all situations. Even if it’s maybe not the decision he’s thrilled about, he’s very professional in his approach.
“When he gets on the field, he’s going to do the best he can. That’s Fredy’s mentality. He wants to get out there. … He wants to be a game changer.”
After entering the game late, he tied last week’s eventual loss in San Jose, scoring a goal in the first minute of stoppage time.
Has Schmid found a super-sub? Is Montero becoming CenturyLink Field’s new 12th Man? Schmid says no, although Seattle is 5-2-3 in games that Montero comes off the bench.
“We’re not going to turn him into super sub,” Schmid said, “or the 12th Man of the Year, or something like that. Even though he does well when he comes off the bench, he’ll start again.”
Montero, who wasn’t available for interviews, is a game changer. Even when he’s sitting, teams have to plan for his eventual appearance and the shot of adrenaline he’s going to bring into the game.
He is instant offense, instant oomph. Maybe it isn’t the role Montero envisions for himself. But he has responded when the role has been given to him.
“He’s obviously focused and he wants to win, so he’s champing at the bit when he comes off the bench,” Schmid said. “But I’m not going to let you talk me into bringing him off the bench.”
Off the bench or in the starting 11, Montero has caught fire. This was his eighth goal of the season, but his fourth goal in the past five league games. After struggling to link with Johnson, who scored his 11th goal Saturday, Montero is beginning to help establish a prolific partnership.
“I’m here already three weeks, but you can see the type of soccer player Fredy is,” Tiffert said. “He shows it week after week. I think the next game he will play.”
Tiffert smiled, knowing next week at Chivas, Montero almost certainly will be given the full 90.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org.