SEATTLE – Before Fredy Montero could walk off the field after being substituted in the 73rd minute on Sunday, Eddie Johnson made sure to give his Sounders teammate a big hug.
The embrace seemed to say much about their evolving relationship, a key component in Seattle's resounding 4-0 victory over the LA Galaxy. Not only had Montero and Johnson both scored in the same game for the first time since May 19, but the duo worked off each other and created chances for one another in a way they hadn’t before.
“I’m a forward, too, I know how it is,” Johnson said when asked if there was any special significance to the gesture toward his often embattled strike partner. “You have a lot pressure when you’re young, expectations are high, I’ve been in his shoes before.
GOAL: Montero rips it past Saunders
“I’ve been right there, you’re getting chances and they aren’t going in. You’re getting pressure from the fans. You start getting pressure from the organization. You start having a lot of self-doubt. The good thing is, he’s always been getting opportunities. He’s been doing that. I’m happy for him. I’ve been there. He’s been carrying himself well and he deserved it tonight.”
Montero’s big moment came in the 52nd minute when he was able to hit a jumping, side-footed volley from a tight angle to give the Sounders a 2-0 lead. The chance was created by quick interchange between Johnson and Montero at the top of the penalty area, which ultimately opened up when Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders was forced to come off his line with Alex Caskey bearing down on him.
Although Saunders got there first, the ball popped out to Montero, who had alertly followed the play and found himself in position to take a quick shot. It took some impressive athleticism, but the Colombian star put enough pace on the shot to score despite Saunders getting a hand on it.
As Montero celebrated, there was a sense that a sizable weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
While Johnson has emerged as a dark-horse MVP candidate, scoring six of his 10 goals this season in the Sounders’ past eight matches, Montero has sometimes struggled to find his place on a team that has basically been built around him almost from Day 1.
At various points this season, Montero has seemed almost an afterthought in the offense and he’s even been benched, leading some to speculate that he can’t coexist with Johnson. A performance like this, suggests those days may be over.
“Fredy and I are both competitive players,” Johnson said. “Fredy’s been the guy here. The team’s kind of been playing through him for a couple years. I’m a new player and, when I get on the field, I want the ball as much as he wants the ball.
“It’s all about doing what’s best for the team. I’ve been a professional for 11 years and sometimes you have to swallow your pride and put your ego aside and do what’s best for the team. The more touches we can get between each other, the more of a rhythm we can get and that’s what we’ve been doing lately, just trying to find each other more and combine more.”
That they have. And Johnson even had a prediction for Montero before Sunday’s kickoff.
“We’ve been positive with one another," Johnson said. "I’m enjoying it, he’s enjoying it. I told him today before we scored that he was going to score. It’s good, because now he gets that goal and he’s going to get more.”
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.