By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — No, Fredy Montero didn’t start for Sounders FC Saturday afternoon, but boy did he ever finish.
Even better for Seattle, Eddie Johnson joined Montero on the score sheet to give the Seattle Sounders a 2-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps. And as important as those two goals were because they gave Seattle a valuable three points in the standings, they may be even more significant because of the big-picture implications.
Just as a crowd of 55,718 — which remarkably was only the second biggest this month for the Sounders — is a sign of just how big soccer has become in Seattle, the fact that the two goals that propelled Seattle to a win came from Montero and Johnson is a sign that this could be a team capable of contending for an MLS Cup title.
“I always get a special joy when we win a game and there’s a Montero goal and a Johnson goal,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “It substantiates what we’re trying to do with those two guys. When you start adding it up now, they’re starting to get to a place where they’re probably one of the best three or four combinations in the league in terms of goal production.”
When Sounders FC added Johnson in an offseason trade, days like Saturday were exactly what Schmid and general manager Adrian Hanauer had in mind. Montero has been Seattle’s top goal scorer since the team’s inaugural season in 2009, but the team has long searched for the right fit at forward next to him.
The idea was for Johnson to be that guy, but early in the season it appeared that Johnson and Montero might not be as good together as they are individually. As recently as last month, Johnson started three out of four games at forward next to Mauro Rosales, not Montero. So when lineups were announced Saturday, and Montero was once again on the bench, it seemed that Schmid was still not comfortable with the Montero-Johnson pairing.
Well as it turned out, Montero was held out of the lineup because he missed Friday’s practice because of a family matter. Montero otherwise would have started, Schmid said.
When Montero did come into the game in the 61st minute, he wasted very little time making an impact, scoring the game-winner in the 64th minute. While Montero has been a starter for most of his career, that was his sixth goal in 10 appearances off the bench, including a goal last weekend again San Jose. Even if Montero has a knack for scoring as a sub, however, Schmid would prefer to have Montero in the starting lineup.
“We’re not going to turn him into a super sub or the 12th man of the year, even though he does well when he comes off the bench,” Schmid said.
Which is good news for the Sounders. Yes, Montero is good off the bench, but to be at its best, Sounders FC needs to be able to function well with its most talented attacking players — Montero, Johnson and Rosales — all on the field together, and what is encouraging is that with each passing week, Seattle seems to be doing just that.
Either Johnson or Montero scoring is good for the Sounders; both of them being goal dangerous, however, is what the Sounders are going to need if they want to finally make some noise in the playoffs, not just get there. Saturday was the fourth time this season — and more importantly, second time in three games — that Montero and Johnson have scored in the same game.
If there were any lingering concerns about their ability to coexist, and more importantly, produce, it’s time to put those to bed after Saturday.
It might have taken Montero some time to get used to having another alpha-male forward on the roster, and it may have taken Johnson a while to get used to being the veteran trying to share the ball with a young, talented goal scorer. But in time those two have gotten better at playing together and complementing each other, and it’s starting to show on the field more and more each week.
“We’re both competitive players, and in the beginning, when you’re here for a while, and you’re the person who has been scoring goals, and somebody else comes in who is just as competitive and wants to be that goal-scorer, sometimes you’ve got to sacrifice and put your ego aside and do what’s best for the team,” Johnson said. “For forwards, it’s all about rhythm. The more we can get touches and play with the each other and keep each other with the rhythm and growing and understanding on the field.
“It was just a matter of time. He’ll get his goals, he’s too good of a player and he’s showing it.”
Johnson, who has 11 goals in MLS play, is one shy of Montero’s team record for goals in a season, and three ahead of Montero this year. And while both realize winning is priority No. 1, they’d both love to one-up each other on the score sheet, which is only good for the team as far as Johnson is concerned.
“Fredy is competitive, I’m competitive,” he said. “I’m pretty sure one of his goals is to be leading goal scorer, and it’s one of my goals, too. So, if we’re both trying to be leading goal scorers, you’re just going to get more goals from both of us. So it’s good for the team.”
Montero was the spark off the bench again Saturday, but don’t expect that to last. For Seattle to be at its best, for the one-and-done playoff appearances to come to an end, the team’s best two goal scorers need to be succeeding together, which is why the final 30 minutes of Saturday’s game were a very encouraging sign.
“As long as they both stay hot, I’m happy,” Schmid said.
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.