Gliding forward after a career year in 2017-18, Jamiro Monteiro was ready for the next step.
Monteiro had impressed in the Dutch second division and carried his excellence into the Eredivisie for a season with Heracles Almelo. That summer, he was about to get rewarded with another step up.
His blend of vision, creativity and indefatigable work rate made him the quintessential modern midfielder. A useful, plug-and-play piece to most teams. Except, Monteiro wasn't playing with French club Metz. He played 86 league minutes in Ligue 2, his lone start coming at left wing. When it was apparent he was available, the Philadelphia Union came calling.
“You saw the talent that jumped off the video," Union head coach Jim Curtin told MLSsoccer.com last week. "You start asking: How the heck is a player this talented not starting?”
“I was very angry, it was hard," Monteiro said.
Monteiro still doesn't know why he wasn't playing, but he doesn't really care anymore. He's just happy to be in Philly, where he immediately excelled with the Union.
“I don’t know what happened there," Monteiro said. "The coach decided to play other players. It was weird. The coach wanted me to go to Metz, they paid a lot for me to go to Metz. It was strange, I don’t understand it. But now that’s in the past, I don’t think about it.”
Monteiro's loan went better than could have been expected, making 26 appearances with four goals and nine assists for the Union during a club-record season. His strengths were amplified in Philly's high-pressing system.
“In hindsight, it’s hilarious how slowly I brought him into the team," Curtin said. Monteiro's first two appearances came off the bench. "He’s clearly a top player for us. I can’t believe I didn’t start him right away, just looking at the timing. Obviously we want to set him up for success, but if I rolled him out there he’d have been dominating games from the start.”
After Monteiro's loan ended following the 2019 season, his future was up in the air. He returned to Metz because a deal wasn't yet reached between all three parties, a complicated transfer with several moving parts. Still, Monteiro was desperate to rejoin the Union.
“It was stressful," Monteiro admits. "I was thinking about it, I didn’t want to go back to Metz. I had other options but I was feeling good here in Philly. It was stressful, it was crazy, but I’m so thankful we signed. I’m so happy here.”
A club-record deal was eventually reached this winter, with Monteiro coming back as a Designated Player. A major reason he wanted to re-sign was his relationship with Curtin.
“Trust is really important for me," Monteiro said. "If you don’t feel good, if you’re not happy, you can’t perform. I’m hard on myself, but if Jim, (sporting director) Ernst (Tanner) and (technical director) Chris (Albright) believe in me, it’ll give me an extra boost. It’s important.”
Curtin says the two best compliments he can receive are when fans tell him they like watching the team play and when his players enjoy working with him. He also sees a great future for the Dutch-born Cape Verde international.
“He’s a special player," Curtin said. "He’s a player we want to build around. It’s our job to win something here with him in Philadelphia. ... My job is to get him to a top league in Europe. That’s what his skillset is, because he has the ability to play anywhere in the world. I mean that wholeheartedly."