With Sounders FC star Fredy Montero slumping, newcomer Eddie Johnson has stepped up, scoring five of Seattle's past seven goals.

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TUKWILA — Much of the attention on Sounders FC’s game Saturday went to the long-awaited MLS return of Steve Zakuani — and rightfully so. The midfielder’s substitute appearance, more than 14 months after suffering a broken leg, will serve as one of the iconic moments of the season.

But there was another player of note who started on Seattle’s bench that night: the franchise’s leading scorer, Fredy Montero.

The streaky forward, despite unquestioned talent, has hit another slump. He has a pedestrian four goals and four assists this season, and hasn’t scored in 523 minutes since a May 19 stoppage-time equalizer in Vancouver.

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“Sometimes taking a step back opens up your eyes,” said coach Sigi Schmid, explaining Montero’s benching. “Sometimes it’s good to get a little bit of a break, because he’s played a lot of minutes and played a lot of games for us.

“I know immediately the reaction is, ‘Oh, it must’ve been a punishment,’ or, ‘Something must’ve happened,’ or something like that, but no. It’s just a different way of, ‘Hey, let’s look at it. Let’s re-evaluate it.’ “

For Montero, there might be more reasons for concern with his playing time.

Schmid attributed much of the Sounders’ struggles in a recent nine-game MLS winless streak to losing their tough-minded mentality and added that Montero’s skill-oriented style of play does little to restore that.

And Seattle’s offense produced quite well up front in Montero’s absence, both in Saturday’s 2-1 win against Colorado and last week’s 2-2 tie in New England, when the 24-year-old Colombian was serving a red-card suspension. In those games, forward Eddie Johnson scored three goals and Mauro Rosales, who slotted into Montero’s role as a withdrawn forward, had three assists.

Best-case scenario: All three are producing, with Johnson and Montero as a dynamic forward combination and the hardworking Rosales — who is beginning to rediscover his 2011 form — as a right-side midfielder.

That’s still the hope, but it hasn’t materialized.

One might think the addition of a goal-scorer like Johnson would take the pressure off Montero, who has been the focal point of the Sounders’ offense the past few years.

Not so, according to Montero, who still praised the Johnson acquisition.

“There is no less pressure for anybody,” he said.

Teammates can tell.

“He puts so much pressure on himself,” defender Zach Scott said, “and I think he feels the outside pressure as well when he’s not scoring: ‘Is the team going to do well? Where are we going to get the goals from?’ “

Added Jeff Parke: “You can’t always rely on one guy. It’s too much pressure for one person to handle, having to be there game-in and game-out and deliver.”

Johnson’s shoulders have been wide enough to carry the scoring load in recent weeks. He has five of the team’s seven goals in the past six league games and a team-leading eight goals overall.

So is Johnson thinking about a possible return to the U.S. men’s national team?

“I’m not too worried about that,” he said. “I’m just (going to) keep doing what I’ve been doing since I got here, and that’s being true to what we believe in. … If we’re doing those things consistently as a team, and I’m scoring goals consistently as an individual, week-in and week-out, I think everything else that comes after that is just a bonus.”

Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or jmayers@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @joshuamayers.

Offensive shift
Comparing three Sounders over the past five games
Date Min. Assists Goals
6/20 90 0 0
6/24 89 0 0
6/30 0* 0 0
7/4 73 0 0
7/7 18 0 0
6/20 80 0 0
6/24 90 0 1
6/30 90 0 2
7/4 90 0 0
7/7 72 0 1
6/20 81 1 0
6/24 90 0 0
6/30 90 1 0
7/4 90 0 0
7/7 86 2 0
*Suspended for red card against Portland
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