Colombia’s Radamel Falcao faces a race against time to be fit for the World Cup after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee playing for Monaco last week, but an obvious MLS-related subplot to the superstar’s injury is the improved chances of striker Fredy Montero making it to Brazil this summer.
With only four international caps to his name, having last played for the national team in 2009, Colombia’s bevvy of attacking options means Montero’s place in the squad is far from guaranteed, but his form this past six months will certainly be hard for head coach José Pékerman to ignore.
The Seattle Sounders’ all-time top scorer, Montero is currently on loan at Sporting CP, lighting up the Primeira Liga with 13 goals in 16 games, tying for Portugal’s Golden Boot race with fellow countryman Jackson Martínez of Porto, also expected to pick up the slack in Falcao’s absence. Serie A strikers Víctor Ibarbo (Cagliari) and Luis Muriel (Udinese), Bundesliga leading-scorer Adrián Ramos (Hertha Berlin), Sevilla’s Carlos Bacca and River Plate’s Teófilo Gutiérrez also are vying for places, so Montero still faces plenty of competition to make Pékerman’s final squad, but the 26-year-old is at least now positioned to get a fair crack of the whip.
That wasn’t always the case for the dynamic striker, who, despite standing out as one of the most creative players in the league during his four years in Seattle, never truly found himself in the national team picture, due to Colombia’s de facto policy of ignoring MLS-based talent.
Arriving on loan from Colombia’s Deportivo Cali under heavy expectations before the Sounders’ inaugural season in 2009, Montero became an instant star in Seattle, establishing himself from the get-go as one of the league’s most exciting young players and the focal point of the team’s attack.
Eventually signing on a permanent basis in late-2010 as a designated player, Montero would score double-digits goals in each of his four MLS seasons but, despite his enormous popularity amongst the overwhelming majority of Sounders fans, the Colombian could never quite escape criticism from a section of supporters, as well as analysts around the league.
While his talent was always well-recognised, many simply appeared all too eager to label Montero disinterested and even lazy during goal droughts or spells of ineffectiveness. Granted, his form could be decidedly streaky, causing head coach Sigi Schmid to relegate him to the bench at times, Montero would always battle back with a positive attitude and impressive displays. That unfavourable characterisation was quite obviously a gross generalisation – and just downright unfair. After all, when you score 60 goals in 160 games (across all competitions) while carrying the team’s attack for lengthy stretches; it’s tough to see too many negatives.
Nevertheless, during his four-year spell in the Pacific Northwest, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Sounders won only one playoff series, while Montero failed to score a single post season goal. The Colombian was still clearly one of the most productive goal-scoring threats in MLS at the time he was loaned back home to Millionarios in January 2013 but, with his national team hopes in mind and the chance to showcase himself in the Copa Libertadores for European clubs, it was a move which was arguably much needed for his career’s sake and which few fans could begrudge him for making.
It was one which obviously had the desired effect too, with Montero’s much-awaited move to Europe eventually materialising in July, when he was loaned out again to the Lisbon-based powerhouse Sporting. Going on to exceed all expectations with his goal-scoring exploits, while duly putting himself back in the national team picture, the deal also reportedly contains a $12 million option to buy, which, given his recent form, looks highly likely to be exercised. That would be the largest fee ever received for an MLS player, eclipsing the roughly $10 million Villarreal paid for then-New York Red Bulls striker Jozy Altidore in 2008.
So, while it’s mightily hard to envisage Montero returning to MLS at this stage, we can still ask ourselves: does his recent success actually mean anything for the league?
While the detractors will no doubt point to the fact that it took a move abroad for him to finally realise his full potential and get back on Colombia’s radar, one can also argue that MLS played a significant role in his growth and maturation as a player. In the end, Montero may have been forced to seek out a move due to his 2014 World Cup ambitions, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that his time with the Sounders played a significant role in making him the striker he is today – one topping the scoring charts in Europe and in contention to make it to Brazil.
In addition, while a host of established big-names players, such as Jermain Defoe, Maurice Edu, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, have all contributed towards consolidating the league’s ever-growing reputation by arriving/returning in recent months, if young homegrown and foreign players alike can also see MLS as a viable place in which to develop their game, then that’s obviously a hugely positive step towards strengthening its foundations.
Montero is clearly a prime case study to uphold for this: a player who, though now flourishing across the Atlantic, unmistakably honed his skills stateside and is hopefully helping to change the perception that MLS is merely a league where the former stars of Europe head for a final pay day.