TUKWILA – Fredy Montero’s return to health and his return to the Sounders FC starting lineup may not necessarily happen at the same time.
Montero is the club’s all-time goals and assists leader, but the Sounders have a win and a draw over the two games he has missed – and those are the club’s only multiple-goal games of the season.
As of Wednesday, with Montero back at training and the Saturday date at Philadelphia drawing closer, coach Sigi Schmid wasn’t ready to tip his lineup plans.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said. “We won’t worry about it right now. When guys are playing well, it’s tough to break up a team. They haven’t lost now in their last three games, and we want to continue to build on that.”
After starting the season with a pair of 1-0 losses, the Sounders are 1-0-2 over their past three games.
Montero played in the 1-1 home draw with Houston, then sat out a 2-2 draw at San Jose and a 2-1 home win over Chicago last Saturday.
However, he returned to training this week, with a cast over his right wrist. And after training Wednesday at Starfire Sports Complex he sounded eager to get back on the pitch.
“It’s a great feeling,” the Colombian said through an interpreter. “I’m not used to being so far away from the team, and I’m just really happy to get back and be useful to the team.”
In Montero’s absence, the Sounders have moved Mauro Rosales up alongside O’Brian White, while midfielder Steve Zakuani has increased his offensive presence from the wing.
Of the four goals scored in Montero’s absence, two have come from White and one each from Zakuani and Brad Evans. Two assists have come from Rosales and one each from Zakuani and White.
“I think everyone played really well, and I think that’s everyone’s job,” Montero said. “We all just have to work on moving the team forward and work on winning some titles, and we’re all just doing our job.”
Montero said he feels “absolutely” ready to return to action this weekend, but Schmid wasn’t ready to say even if Montero will be on the plane today as the team travels to the East Coast.
If Montero returns as a starting forward, Rosales could slide back to midfield. But that could force to the bench another player who has been productive over the recent run of improved play. However, there are relatively few moves available, because Zakuani and Osvaldo Alonso are fixtures.
“Obviously, we’ve got options this year,” Schmid said. “Erik Friberg’s done well, and he can play inside there. Rosales can possibly play inside there. There are different options. A little bit depends on the opponent, a little bit depends on the form of the players. If Brad Evans plays well, he’s certainly somebody who can make his way onto the field because he offers a lot of things that don’t sometimes show up in the box score: winning duels at midfield, winning headers, being dangerous for us on set pieces, being able to help us clear. Those things all factor into winning and losing.”
Along the back line, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado’s return to the starting lineup alongside Jeff Parke pushed Patrick Ianni to the bench after starts against Houston and San Jose.
“We’re in a situation now where we have four good center backs,” goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. “With Jeff and Jhon and Pat and Taylor (Graham), I think the combination, it’s really a case of who’s playing well at the time and who steps in and plays well to keep their position.
“Because I think the coaching staff knows that anyone who steps in can do the job for us, and it keeps that good competition so the guys who are playing have to be on their toes … because there’s somebody at practice every day waiting for their chance.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org twitter/donruiztnt blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer