Longtime friends Fredy Montero and Osvaldo Alonso met again on the field wearing opposite jerseys as the Sounders took on the Vancouver Whitecaps.
VANCOUVER, B.C. – Onetime Sounders star forward Fredy Montero laughs when describing how he met the Cuban defector who became his best friend.
Montero joined the fledgling Sounders in training camp from his native Colombia in 2009 and started chatting up the “white guy’’ running sprints next to him. Though Montero knew only a few English words, he figured the other player might speak a second language.
“I tried to talk to him in English and I said, ‘Do you speak Spanish?’ ’’ Montero recalled Thursday. “And the guy said, ‘Yes, of course. I’m from Cuba.’ ’’
Osvaldo Alonso has been his friend ever since, including the years after Montero, known as The Cascadian King, left in 2012 to pursue a career in Europe. On Friday, the two met again on the field wearing opposite jerseys as the Sounders took on the Vancouver Whitecaps and their new designated player, Montero, for the first time.
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Life in America was difficult for both when they first arrived. Alonso had defected in a Wal-Mart in Florida in 2007 while touring with the Cuban national team. He’d spent a USL season in Charleston, S.C., before joining the expansion Sounders.
Alonso knew how difficult things could be for a young Spanish-speaking foreigner.
“I never really went out anywhere,’’ Alonso said of life in Charleston. “Sometimes, I maybe had teammates come over or take me out. But I stayed home a lot.’’
So when Montero, just a year younger, broke the ice, Alonso welcomed him in. They hung out on the road, but especially in Seattle, where players usually went separate ways after practice.
It’s something Montero still appreciates.
“We went everywhere together,’’ Montero said. “I remember when Ozzie got his first car. And he came with me to get my first car.’’
Montero grew up in the Colombian coastal town of Barranquilla — known to music fans as the birthplace of Shakira — where he played junior soccer before turning professional in 2005 with Deportivo Cali. Alonso was raised in communist Cuba, his early childhood spent before the Soviet Union’s collapse when the country was far less westernized.
So they experienced some U.S. culture shock.
“We were amazed how MLS was so nice, giving us shoes,’’ he said. “We collected shoes so at the end of the year, I could give them to my friends back in Colombia and his friends in Miami.’’
Montero was MLS Newcomer of the Year in 2009 and scored a franchise-best 47 goals for the Sounders during four seasons. Later, he fulfilled a childhood dream by playing in Europe with a Portuguese side before heading to China last season.
This year, the Whitecaps traded for Montero’s allocation rights and his Chinese Super League squad Tianjin TEDA was ready to deal because of new rules limiting foreign imports. But Montero wanted to speak to some old MLS friends first.
He and Alonso had kept in touch from overseas, celebrating by phone when the Sounders won their MLS Cup title.
“I knew how important it was for him, being an original member of the Sounders,’’ Montero said.
And Alonso got more calls as Montero faced a decision about an MLS return.
Montero also chatted, in Seattle over coffee, with Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer before joining the Whitecaps. Schmetzer had been part of the team’s initial scouting party to Colombia in 2008 where he met the extremely shy Montero, barely in his 20s.
“He’s the kind of coach you talk about things with that aren’t only about soccer,’’ Montero said.
When Montero left Seattle, he wasn’t married. Now, almost 30, he and his wife, Alexis, a Gig Harbor native, have two daughters, Vivienne, 3, and Ruby, 1. So Montero said he and Schmetzer discussed their children — and nothing else.
While the coffee may have been about friendship, there were no such illusions about Friday’s game and his on-field meet-up with Alonso.
“Fredy’s my friend, but I’m here in Seattle now,’’ Alonso said. “We’re going there to find a way to get the three points. No matter how.’’
On facing Montero in a different uniform: “It’s part of soccer.’’
Montero wouldn’t expect anything less than a game face from his feisty friend.
“I know his desire to win,’’ he said. “And he knows mine as well.’’