Thursday's news confirmed what I've long thought: Fredy Montero is the most intelligent Colombian player of the last decade.
And, perhaps, it's about time Colombia takes MLS seriously. After all, the most intelligent Colombian player of the previous decade, Carlos "El Pibe" Valderrama, was an original MLS legend.
For the record, I'm not doubting the superiority of the very best European leagues compared to any league in the Americas. I also understand why Europe is the most coveted destination for Latin American players and the stigma existing in Colombia, and some Latin American countries, toward MLS.
But Montero's deal with Portugese giant Sporting CP shows exactly why MLS is a worthy proving ground – at the very least.
The latest, and only, Colombian player to feature at a World Cup while playing for an MLS side was "El Pibe" in France 1998, back when he dominated the midfield with the Miami Fusion. Since then, Colombia haven't gone back to the world's biggest stage – something that will change this summer – which brings into question the technical decisions of a series of managers who have deemed MLS insufficient preparation.
Carlos "El Pibe" Valderrama is the only Colombian player who's played in the World Cup while contracted to an MLS team.
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There's something certain: Colombian players playing their trade in the US (and Canada) have found themselves blocked from the national team.
Only exceptions to such ilegitimacy have been Diego Chará, Faryd Mondragón and Carlos Valdés. The latter, now on loan to San Lorenzo de Almargo, was called up to the national team after a succesful 2012 campagin with Philadelphia Union, including an MLS All-Star Game appearance against Chelsea. He then moved back to Colombia with Santa Fe, his only recourse to remain among the chosen ones.
Portland's Chará had just signed with the Timbers when he played 20 minutes during the first qualifying match for Brazil 2014 against Bolivia, in October 2011. But that was it. Mondragón, on the other hand, had to go back to his home club, Deportivo Cali, and is now one of the key elements in the Colombian locker room, if not necessarily on the field.
So what about Montero, you ask?
The two-time Colombian top scorer with Atlético Huila and Deportivo Cali became one the players to watch in Colombia back in 2007 and 2008. His move to the Seattle Sounders, on a loan in 2009, placed him on the periphery of the Colombian soccer scene. It was unorthodox, but it paid off – and had a positive effect on his personal life.
His quality of life improved significantly when the Sounders bought 65 percent of his rights and brought his family along with him, offering them their own American dream. He then married American-born Alexis Immig, with whom he already has a daughter.
During his time with the Sounders, Montero only wore the Colombian jersey once (his fourth overall), at a friendly in New Jersey against Venezuela.
Four years passed, and Montero scored as he pleased – except during the playoffs – selling jerseys alongside David Beckham and Thierry Henry. He became a star but hadn't yet reached his maximum goal, Europe.
Fredy Montero is the top goalscorer in the history of the Seattle Sounders, with 60 goals in all competitions.
- Getty Images
Even though there were a few rumors here and there from across the Atlantic, it was Colombia's Millonarios who came knocking. No, it wasn't Europe, but there was a big opportunity: playing with the then Colombian champions (after 26 years) and showcasing himself in the Copa Libertadores.
His performance on the field didn't exceed expectations, but his time in Colombia struck a nerve. He was once again part of the Colombian soccer scene, and therefore the national team.
Had his time with Millonarios paid the dividends everyone was hoping for, Montero could have been called up to Colombia during the current World Cup process. But it was only after a disappointing six-month period in Millos that Sporting Clube finally opened European doors.
And now, after today, those doors will stay open for four more years.
Fredy Montero scored 13 goals with Sporting in six months, equaling his career-best tally in a single season.
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Today, Montero has positioned himself as a top and lethal striker in one of Europe's great clubs, and his options to go back to the national team have increased. Crafty, precise and determined, that has been Fredy Montero on and off the field; the most intelligent Colombian player – after "El Pibe" – ever to set foot in MLS.
Reality indicates there are at least six forwards ahead of Montero on the national team, not because of talent, but because they have been part of manager José Pékerman's process. Radamel Falcao's unfortunate injury, with 50 percent chance of recovering for the World Cup, increases Montero's hopes.
Another circumstance to take into account is timing. Brazil 2014 is less than five months away, and Colombia are the only team who haven't scheduled an international friendly. And it doesn't look like they will, which limits Montero's timing to blend in and try out with the rest of the players.
Here's why Montero is so smart: Rather than chasing the big bucks early in his career, he paid his dues with the Sounders, grounding himself pesonally and professionally, and then went about climbing the ladder to the ultimate payday.
Whatever the case may be, Montero has worn the MLS stigma in his home country, but used it as a launching pad for both his professional and personal life. The league's critics may breathe in peace – but only for now. Montero's career path, with stability and stardom and an upward arc that could very well culminate in an appearance at this summer's main event, holds new promise for the next generation of Colombian talent.
Like Pibe before him, Montero has shown himself to be a savvy and skillful trailblazer. It is also worth mentioning that he's scored 81 goals in the last five years accross all competitions with his respective clubs, roughly the same amount as has Jackson Martínez, Colombia's second striker behind Falcao.
Not bad for the thinking man's player.
As we say in Colombia: "Montero la supo hacer." (I'll leave it as homework for you guys.)