With Montero gone, Sounders contemplate next move

TUKWILA, Wash. — Throughout their MLS existence, no player has been more closely associated with the Seattle Sounders than Fredy Montero.

With the start of training camp officially marking the beginning of season 5 on Monday, that has changed, at least temporarily.

The forward’s long-rumored loan to Colombian club Millonarios was made official earlier in the day, giving the Sounders a hole to fill as they prepare for their season opener against the Montreal Impact on March 2.

“It’s crazy, but that’s the way it is,” Sounders midfielder Steve Zakuani told reporters. “Every team has lost players. Every team has brought in players. We have to trust the management. We’re all pulling in the same direction, trying to win the whole thing this year.”

The main issue for the Sounders will likely be goals. Montero’s 47 goals and 34 assists were among the highest totals in league play over the past four years. Only two players had scored more and only one player had more combined goals and assists (Dwayne De Rosario, 82). No one comes close to matching Montero’s 103 combined goals (60) and assists (43) in all competitions.

Although the Sounders now have the roster flexibility to sign a new Designated Player, as of yet no one is on the way.

“I feel confident we can open the season with the guys we have,” head coach Sigi Schmid said. “We want to make sure the guy we bring in is the right guy. We don’t want to feel like our backs are against the wall, make a decision just to make a decision and bring in the wrong guy. We have enough confidence in what we have, but we’re also looking as well.”

Among the players Schmid named as potential starters alongside Eddie Johnson, who led the Sounders with 14 goals in 2012, are Mauro Rosales, David Estrada, Sammy Ochoa and even Zakuani, who played forward in college before being used almost exclusively as a midfielder in MLS.

Each of those players offers something different, with Rosales' skillset probably being closest to Montero’s.

For Estrada, it’s a similar situation he found himself in last year when he opened the season as a starter with Montero as Johnson worked himself back to full fitness. Estrada responded by scoring six goals in his first five competitive matches.

“No pressure, just looking forward to an opportunity early in the season,” Estrada told MLSsoccer.com. “If the opportunity is presented, I’ll be ready. But I’m just here to work. It’s unfortunate that Fredy had to go because he was a good guy and a great friend. But hopefully there’s a guy that can step up and if it’s me, I’d be more than happy.”