Oh, Fredy Montero. What are we to do with you?
You’ve shown flashes of being the most exciting young talent in the league. You’ve displayed deep wells of potential that suggest you could become one of MLS’ all-time greats.
And at the same time, you’re one of the most frustrating, enigmatic players ever to saunter into an MLS locker room.
Who are you going to be? The guy who leads his team to glory and deposits a treasure trove of highlight reels for us to ogle? Or the sometimes whiny, petulant guy who gets carded at the wrong time, kills his team’s attack in the final third and keeps Sounders fans asking the same question over and over again:
WATCH: Montero's surefire GotY candidate
“When are we going to find the right partner to pair with Fredy?”
I get it. He’s only 24, and you see his potential. You see his lightning bursts of speed, his tricks, his fancy dribbling skills and his stepovers. His fantastic finishing from distance that had fans agape literally since his first game in MLS.
He’s got a blissful shoot-first mentality, which fans love. This season, he’s on pace to obliterate his career high in shots taken: At his current rate, he’ll end the year with 161 shots, nearly 50 percent more than his mark of 108 from 2011.
But if they don’t end up in the back of the net, it’s not necessarily a good thing. And that aspect of his game is perhaps getting worse. Only 36 percent of his shots this season have been on frame, a rate that would set a career low. Maybe it’s no surprise Montero’s also on pace for a career low in goals in 2012.
But there are signs Montero is learning it isn’t necessarily always about him – or maybe that he’s got a little more trust in the guys around him. His passing accuracy is up across the board this season, especially in the middle third (up to 85.45 percent over 82 percent last year) and final third (65.25 vs. 64.05). That suggests he’s better at combining with his teammates, and doing so further up the field.
But it’s the payoff we’re missing. The goals aren’t coming for Montero, and he still seems to be wasting his own touches on the ball and forcing the issue when he gets the last touch.
True, defenses key on Montero. He remains one of the most fouled players in the league (tied for No. 2 behind Davy Arnaud) – and tops by far among forwards. And that drops us right back into the maddening Mobius strip of asking when some Messianic strike partner is going to alleviate the pressure on Montero and let him do what he does best.
There’s a certain reality here that we’re all avoiding: The great players don’t wait around for the perfect partner. They show on their own why they’re great. For all the years Thierry Henry spent alongside Dennis Bergkamp at Arsenal, he also made it work with Robert Pires, José Antonio Reyes, Robin van Persie – and even alone up top at times.
Sure, none of those players is walking through the door at CenturyLink Field. But in the time the Sounders have been looking for that partner for their star up top, they’ve blown through a laundry list of supposed strike mates that, for whatever reason, haven’t worked out: Sébastien Le Toux. Blaise Nkufo. Nate Jaqua. O’Brian White. Sammy Ochoa.
Now it’s Eddie Johnson. And it’s the same old question: Is EJ the right strike partner for Fredy?
Maybe not. We have yet to see the Fredy n’ Eddie Show work in stereo. When Montero has a great game, Johnson is often invisible. And the reverse is true, too. The most telling stat? EJ’s seven goals are tops on the team. Say what you will about Johnson’s attitude and recent past – he’s making his chances count when he gets ‘em.
At what point do we start to look at Montero and start demanding more from him on his own? When can we start requiring his own greatness to shine through? We’ll look the other way on some of the histrionics and choice words for the officials – plenty of players do that – but for Fredy to truly be great, he needs to take responsibility for his own all-around game.
You could be one of the best, Fredy. Now make us believe the hype.
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com. "The Throw-In" appears every Thursday.