SEATTLE (CBS) – Eight years ago, a Major League Soccer expansion side from the Pacific Northwest kicked off one of the most successful seasons for a first-year club in league history.
No expansion team since the Chicago Fire and Miami Fusion in 1998 had ever advanced to the post-season in their league debut. Yet the Seattle Sounders took the league by storm, finishing third in the Western Conference with a record of 12-7-11 to become one of three teams ever to reach playoffs in their inaugural season.
Before transforming into the gold standard of US soccer club teams, the Sounders were a budding franchise with incredible potential and talent. Over the first few seasons, they developed a reputation for being a pain in the side for many of the established, longtime MLS squads.
And no one contributed to that M.O. more than Fredy Montero.
The Colombian striker helped carry Seattle to four-straight playoff appearances and three US Open Cup titles over his four seasons. Montero is still the franchise leader in goals with 60 goals across all competitions.
Now, four years later, the Sounders prepared to do something they’ve never done before: take the field against Montero.
Seattle will travel north for the first matchup of the season against Cascadia rival Vancouver Whitecaps, who Montero joined in the offseason on loan from China.
Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer, at the time just an assistant under Sigi Schmid, has fond memories of Montero’s time with the Sounders.
“I remember going to Colombia with Chris [Henderson] and Adrian [Hanauer] to scout Fredy. We saw this young kid with a ton of talent. He spoke volumes on the field,” Schmetzer said during weekly training in preparation for Friday’s match.
“I think there was an old highlight clip of him putting the ball between someone’s legs. We were watching him like ‘yeah this kid is gonna be great.'”
Similar to the Sounders entrance to the league, Montero came on to the US Soccer scene with a bang.
In his first game in Rave Green, the Sounders inaugural match against the New York Red Bulls, Montero scored a brace and had an assist to give Seattle a 3-0 win. A few days later, he was named MLS Player of the Week.
The combination of speed and strength made Montero a nightmare for opposing defenses throughout the league. The striker is just one of five Sounders to ever score a hat trick and, along with his franchise goal record, is the all-time team leader in US Open Cup, Champions League, and MLS goals.
Yet just as lethal as Montero’s physical traits was the mental part of his game.
“Fredy was street smart. He was so good about figuring out ways how to be better than the guy he was playing against,” Schmetzer said.
“Sometimes he’d throw his body in the way to get penalty kicks, other times, he’d put it between a guy’s legs. It didn’t matter what method he tried to use, he was always out-thinking.”
There’s still a great respect between Seattle, both the fans and the team, for Montero. After leaving the Sounders in 2013 on loan to his native Colombia, Montero bounced around to Portugal and China before rumors circulated that a return to the MLS and the Sounders was in the works.
Ultimately, the league return rumors came true. But the Sounders weren’t a part of it.
While Friday will be a unique opportunity to be reunited a team icon, Seattle players still understand there’s still a lot at stake in the rivalry match.
“Fredy’s a quality player, he’s played here, he’s played in Europe, he’s a good player. But the game is different.Now he’s in Vancouver, we focusing our game on our team.” former teammate Osvaldo Alonso said.
“He was a great player, scored a lot of goals obviously. Someone I can learn some stuff from, his movement in the box, stuff like that,” Jordan Morris, who grew watching Sounders in the early years, added.
“It’ll be weird to see him on the other side of the field but excited to play against him.”
The Sounders and Whitecaps kick off the first match in 2017 of the Cascadia Cup, a competition between Seattle, Vancouver, and the Portland Timbers. Seattle won the Cup back in 2015, and will look to reestablish the dominance over the Pacific Northwest.
And they don’t plan to let Fredy Montero lining up on the other side change that.
“I think everyone on the team respects what Fredy has done in his career. So it’ll be interesting, but once the whistle blows, he’s the enemy,” Schmetzer said.