Colombia still runs through Fredy Montero.
It’s in the coffee he sips, the sounds of Cumbia beats that make his shoulders sway, and images of banana leaves — the fruit also among the country’s largest exports.
But Montero makes one thing clear.
“This is home,” he said emphatically.
Seated on a tufted, emerald green couch in a swanky coffee shop, this is actually a fraction of home. A place comfortable enough for his newborn daughter despite her being three weeks postoperative from heart surgery.
Montero and his wife Alexis partnered with Mikhail (Mike) and Jessica Ghyvoronsky to open Santo Coffee Co. in August 2019 in the Roosevelt neighborhood. Influences from Fredy’s soccer career show up in subtle ways in the coffee shop. The logo is a nod to the field and glasses are imprinted with the hexagon shapes found on soccer balls. But there’s much more to Fredy than what fans see on game day.
It seems easy how this would come to be. A dynamic forward from Colombia catapulting the Sounders FC and himself onto the MLS scene in 2009 and rooting himself in the Pacific Northwest community deep enough to open a hip small business.
Alexis, who was born in Gig Harbor and raised in Tacoma, is quick to offer a reality check. She recalled Fredy recently walking around their Bellevue home when he stopped and blurted out a simple realization that encapsulates the real journey.
“Life is good, but life is hard,” Fredy repeated with a soft smile.
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Margo simplified life. Born May 27, the Monteros weren’t able to take her home to meet her older sisters Ruby (age 5) and Vivienne (age 7) for 10 days because an artery from Margo’s heart was closing and not supplying blood to her legs.
Doctors explained the need for immediate surgery, the couple trying not to flash back to the three miscarriages and two ectopic pregnancies they had experienced over the past five years. Fredy said they surrendered to their faith to guide them.
“It was the worst week of our lives, honestly,” Fredy said with Margo sleeping in a baby carrier next to him. “Seeing the girl with so many cables connected to IVs and everything and not being able to help her … it was a scary moment but it’s already in the past.”
The scare solidified the couple’s goals for resettling in the Seattle area. Fredy, 33, is regarded as the Sounders’ first genuine star. He scored the franchise’s first MLS goal, was the club’s Golden Boot winner his first three seasons, named the league’s 2009 Newcomer of the Year and signed a multiyear contract in 2010 as one of the three designated player spots.
The Sounders loaned Montero to Sporting CP in Portugal in 2013. The striker left the Sounders as a Seattle soccer legend, becoming the Sounders’ all-time leading scorer at 60 goals. After displaying his scoring prowess in four different countries, including a season for Colombian side Millonarios, across eight years, Montero’s return speaks to his sincerity in wanting to retire as a Sounder.
Montero went two months without a paycheck, holding onto a dream of re-signing with Seattle. When Sounders winger Jordan Morris suffered a torn ACL while on loan to English Championship side Swansea City in Wales, the Sounders needed to not only reconfigure their season plans for the roster — before the injury, the earliest Morris would’ve returned was June — but also their starting formation to maximize use of the talent from those players.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer and his staff decided to switch to a two-forward lineup, and general manager Garth Lagerwey signed a third forward — a first for the club since 2014. But with limited funds to allocate to player acquisitions, Montero accepted a one-year deal with options for two more from the Sounders that was an approximate 93% pay cut.
According to figures released by the MLS Players Association, the Vancouver Whitecaps FC paid Montero a guaranteed compensation salary of $1,248,000 in 2020. The Sounders signed him to a supplemental roster spot for the league veteran minimum of $81,375.
“It was the first time in a 15-year professional soccer career that I was without a contract,” said Montero, who helped the Sounders win three U.S. Open Cups. “All the emotions — it was easy because we were in Seattle. I couldn’t think about being in that position in Europe or back in China or even in Vancouver because the border was closed (amid the COVID-19 pandemic) and there was nothing else to do. We didn’t have family. But here, it went smoothly. There was more time to go to church. Pray about it.”
Montero noted the Sounders still have the controlling hand in his dream. MLS’s secondary transfer window opens Wednesday and runs through Aug. 5. League rosters aren’t frozen until Sept. 15.
“When the transfer window opens, every wife gets anxious,” said Alexis, who married Fredy in December 2012. “Anything can change that week. We were in Portugal and the transfer window was closing at midnight. I was at home and (Fredy) had a game. Ruby was 3 months old and I thought, at 12 o’clock, we’re good. I remember at 11 o’clock, Fredy called me and said, ‘Hey, we’re moving to China.’ I cried because I was so overwhelmed. What, when? It was a Sunday and he said, ‘I’m moving there on Thursday.’ That’s soccer. It’s wild.”
Soccer prompted Fredy to seek refuge in what is now another place that comprises his adopted Pacific Northwest home — The Image Church.
The oldest of four children, Montero was raised a devout Catholic. He admits his interpretation of the faith when he arrived in the U.S. as a 21-year-old was skewed. Late nights drinking and a singular focus on being a star soccer player and then praying for forgiveness seemed counterintuitive.
In March 2010, Montero faced accusations for sexual assault and stalking. According to a report filed to Bellevue police, a 23-year-old woman reported Montero had raped her at his condominium and then later stalked her. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg declined to file criminal charges against Montero due to a lack of evidence. Montero served a one-game suspension for receiving a red card while the case was being investigated.
After charges were dropped, the alleged victim told The Times she was “devastated” and could not understand how the prosecutors came to the decision. Montero’s agent at the time said the allegations were false and stemmed from Montero’s efforts to end a dating relationship with the woman.
“It was an unfortunate situation in my life,” Montero said. “It’s something I wouldn’t recommend to kids. Drinking and going to parties, there’s nothing good in that. You have to set boundaries. I didn’t know any better in those days and it (the accusation) happened. It could happen to anyone.”
Montero said he doesn’t have a problem discussing the case now but was “so closed minded” that it took years for him to open up to his wife. Alexis, who turned 30 in May, was candid in noting the contradictions in her husband’s actions and how it relates to religion.
“I met Fredy and he was Catholic and he’d say, ‘You should have a church!’” said Alexis, who hadn’t attended a service until age 21. “But then he was wild. And I’d be like, ‘What the heck?’”
The couple met at a Halloween party. Fredy described her costume as “sexy military” while he was dressed as Freddy Krueger.
Their first date was at Il Fornaio in downtown Seattle and they bonded over their shared love of coffee, Alexis teasing that it was the only thing they had in common because of the language barrier. Both are now fluent in Spanish and English.
Having children and adapting to European culture led the Monteros to give up drinking, except for the orange bitters in their Panela lattes. There’s still a nightclub vibe to Santo with its floor to ceiling windows, concrete floors and sleek pendant lighting. Mike works the showpiece Victoria Arduino espresso machines.
“For us, we like to go get dinner and then go out for a coffee,” Alexis said. “We got into that habit in Europe. Here (Seattle), you don’t really see that. Bars and lounges are so sexy and cool. Coffee shops? No. Why can’t a coffee shop have the same vibe?”
From the outside, the globe-trotting marriage was a thrill ride. They reminisce about their differences as coffee drinkers — Fredy’s mother mixing it with milk in his baby bottle and Alexis enjoying espressos that her husband would blend with tons of milk and five sugars in order to drink. But there were some rough years surrounding the on-field successes, including helping Sporting CP win the 2014-15 Taca de Portugal.
“There were seasons in our relationship where it was, I’m living in a country by myself for you and then when he gets upset about a soccer game, he doesn’t want to leave the house for a week,” Alexis said. “What do I do? Sit in my house for a week? He’s my only friend (in the foreign country). He’s the only person I can talk to. When he’s in his head, I’m totally by myself. It was really, really hard. Thank God Fredy found value in himself outside of that (soccer). A husband, a father is so valuable to the family.”
The Monteros met their pastors at a birthday party for former Sounders winger Steve Zakuani. The carefree, loving nature of those associated with the church touched both Fredy and Alexis.
In 2016, the couple was baptized together.
“I’m going to be bold; I’m going to say it,” Fredy said. “When I was born again, when I had an opportunity to accept Jesus in my life, that’s when I realized that soccer wasn’t defining me as a person.
“I remember going back home after losing a game and not eating and not talking to my wife. I shut down. Just for a sport? Yes, it’s my job. When I realized there’s something else, especially in soccer, you always have the next game. If you didn’t do well, so what? You have one more week to get better and the next game show up, again. After that (getting saved), I got more confidence in myself. And everything started coming together.”
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Soccer still completes home for Montero in the Pacific Northwest. Although he jokes that teammate Raul Ruidiaz could be costly for his coffee business. Some packaging for Santo’s exclusive blends still describe Montero as the club’s all-time leading goal-scorer.
In a storybook start to his return, Montero scored a goal in Seattle’s season opener against former teammate Ozzie Alonso’s Minnesota United in April to become Seattle’s all-time leading goal scorer in MLS regular-season matches, surpassing Clint Dempsey. Montero bagged another goal against the Cascadia rival Portland Timbers to bump his club record to 49 regular-season goals and 62 total across all competitions.
Ruidiaz, who was signed as a designated player in 2018 and named to MLS’s Best XI last season, has 51 goals across all competitions with the Sounders. The Peruvian striker’s MLS career regular-season total is 42.
“So, I say to him, hey, you break it, you need to buy me new (coffee) bags,” Montero said with a joyous laugh.
When Ruidiaz was asked about the conversation, he released an equally infectious laugh before answering in Spanish.
“It’s another motivation to become that all-time leading goal scorer of the Sounders,” Ruidiaz said via a translator. “Fredy’s the one right now and I’m on my way, if I keep working hard, I’ll be there.”
When both players — the entire Sounders squad, really — talk about the season seriously, the only focus is winning the franchise’s third MLS Cup. A deep postseason run has eluded Montero in MLS, the Whitecaps not advancing at all during what was a truncated 2020 season due to the pandemic.
In addition to a title, Montero wants to work with his wife and business partners to provide a sense of community for those who join the Sounders club. If the couple can withstand the price of lumber, they’ll soon complete a 5,000-square foot home in Bellevue — converting the current spot into a rental — for people to drop by, no phone call needed.
Alexis, whose mother is a chef, claimed there would always be food. She’s skilled at making Fredy’s favorite Colombian dishes, like Sancocho, a hot soup eaten no matter the weather, and empanadas, from watching his mother. Alexis will sell the empanadas again at Santo now that the state of Washington is reopened.
For now, there’s the cafe, which is already credited for bringing two customers together who eventually married. Sounders keeper Stefan Cleveland and midfielder Jimmy Medranda are also frequent faces who drop by for a cup expertly made by Mike.
“Sitting down and having a coffee and looking at our daughters play, that’s joy for us,” Fredy said as Ruby buzzed about the shop. “It’s going to be tough to make us feel really frustrated after what we lived through with our daughter. There’s so much bigger things than just sports and situations in life. If you have a choice — it is hard — it’s community, it’s friends. It’s being able to call someone and say, ‘Hey, let’s get the families together and the kids can play.’ That’s amazing. That’s something I was lacking when we were in Europe or even in Canada. Sometimes you don’t have the community around you. Here, we have that complement.
“Even the fact that I can be sitting here talking about me, my family and my career (in English), it’s something that I couldn’t do when I was 21. It was always through a translator. And I feel I can connect more with the fans now. I can be able to go to appearances and talk to them and express my emotions first hand and not through someone else. That’s amazing. … Life is good right now.”