Sounders focused on bottling up Fredy Montero in his Seattle playoff return

TUKWILA, Wash. – By now, everyone following the Western Conference semifinal matchup between the Seattle Sounders and the Vancouver Whitecaps should be familiar with the storyline surrounding Vancouver forward Fredy Montero.

The 30-year-old Colombian was once one of Seattle’s favorite sons, finding immediate MLS stardom after joining the Sounders ahead of their expansion season in 2009. He starred for the club until his overseas departure in 2013, and is still the franchise’s all-time leading MLS scorer with 47 goals.

Prior to 2017, he remained one of the most popular players in franchise history.

All of that changed after Montero made his MLS return following four years abroad by joining Vancouver ahead of this season, instantly turning him into a key player for one of Seattle’s most-hated foes and a chief arch-nemesis in the Cascadia rivalry.

Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer knows Montero about as well as anybody in MLS dating back to his days as Seattle’s top assistant under former head coach Sigi Schmid. With the sides tied 0-0 ahead of Thursday’s second leg at CenturyLink Field (10:30 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes in the US; TSN5, TVAS in Canada), Schmetzer knows that Seattle’s playoff hopes could very-well hinge on the extent to which they can bottle up his former pupil.

“As far as Fredy’s concerned, he’s a very competitive kid,” Schmetzer told reporters on Tuesday. “When he first came here in ’09, he always was very, very competitive. He was competitive at cards, he would be competitive whatever he did. So, in that sense, I don’t expect him to be anything more than himself.”

Montero is coming off a productive regular season for Vancouver that saw him bag 13 goals in 26 starts. He showed a particular propensity for finding the net against Seattle, scoring three times in three regular season matches against the Sounders.

As far as how the Sounders need to go about neutralizing Montero on Thursday, Schmetzer said he was pleased with how his big, physical center back duo of Roman Torres and Chad Marshall managed to keep track of the shifty forward in the first leg. They didn’t allow him to find himself in the positions in front of goal that have made him such a lethal and productive MLS scorer, as Vancouver were held without a single shot on target.

Montero only had one good look on goal in the first leg at BC Place on Sunday, a shot that was blocked by Marshall that both Schmetzer and Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei noted seemed to be his only substantive chance of the match.

“Chad recognized that moment very well to step and block that shot and that’s as dangerous as he was [Sunday],” Frei said. “Very good, maybe you could sense both teams realized the gravity of the situation playing very defensive minded and really limit the opportunity to make mistakes.”

Added Schmetzer: “It just comes down to making plays. I think Roman and Chad did a good job of making plays and we held Fredy just to that half-look where he chipped a ball to the back post in the second half. But I thought we did OK with him.”