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Originally published July 10, 2011 at 6:41 PM | Page modified July 10, 2011 at 9:56 PM

Steve Kelley

Fredy Montero's work rate is finally catching up to his talent

For many young, gifted athletes the games come too easily, too early in their careers. Their inherent skills are so rich that it's almost as if they believe they can wake up in the morning, shake out the cobwebs and excel.

Seattle Times staff columnist

quotes Montero free kick was a thing of beauty. Man that game much like the Womens game yeste... Read more
quotes When Montero puts in the effort, he is an amazing player. I wish he would play like he... Read more
quotes We are only one really good proven striker away from being a brilliant team. Please oh... Read more

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PORTLAND — For many young, gifted athletes the games come too easily, too early in their careers. Their inherent skills are so rich that it's almost as if they believe they can wake up in the morning, shake out the cobwebs and excel.

But at some point, for every one of them, the games stop being easy. The competition improves, the stakes rise, and life gets more complicated.

Only hard work, day after day, turns potential into something real. Some players get it and become great. Others don't and become expendable.

Last week, for the first time in his three seasons with Sounders FC, Fredy Montero didn't wait for his coach to demand that he work on his free kicks at the end of training.

Montero, who turns 24 this month, took the initiative, lining up the wall by himself and tirelessly lofting free kick after free kick toward the goal.

Like a proud father, Sounders coach Sigi Schmid watched his prodigy, seeing something possibly clicking in Montero's mind.

"I've had a couple of lengthy conversations with Fredy over the last couple of days," Schmid said in the first minutes after Sunday's highly entertaining, 3-2 win over the Portland Timbers. "We talked about talent being one thing, but it's the old adage, the guys who puts in the most work are the guys who get rewarded."

Montero carried last week's work rate into this sun-splashed afternoon, playing with a confidence and energy that have been hit-or-miss most of this year.

He scored two goals, his fourth and fifth of the season, twice rescuing the Sounders from one-goal deficits. He was the difference-maker he has to be if the Sounders expect to compete for an MLS title.

"Fredy can be as good as he wants to be. He has all the potential in the world," said Roger Levesque, the Sounders' other starting striker. "You saw it today. He has that extra notch.

"I think he's starting to realize that a little more effort, a little more concentration, can make that difference. He's starting to put that extra work in, and he can be the best player on the field. He's got so much talent. I'm excited to see where it takes him."

Montero tied the score 1-1 in the 57th minute, lofting a beautiful free kick over the Timbers' wall and dropping it just inside the post from 25 yards. Timbers keeper Troy Perkins never had a chance to see it.

It was exactly the kind of kick he practiced all last week at Starfire.

Montero kept putting himself in dangerous spots, kept making runs and tied the score at 2-2 in the 74th minute at the end of a lovely connect-the-dots goal from Lamar Neagle to Mauro Rosales to Montero.

"He was getting himself in front of the goal," Levesque said, "whereas maybe in previous games, maybe he would have just coasted in and stood at the top of the box and hoped for the best. He was making that little extra effort, getting into a good spot and then letting his technical ability and talent shine through."

This is the kind of game the Sounders expect from Montero. A game like this is the reason they placed the designated player tag on him and are paying him a guaranteed $636,000.

The Sounders are undefeated (5-0-3) in games that Montero has either a goal or an assist. That's how important he is to this season.

"It's great when you see hard work rewarded, and I think that's something Fredy has had to see," Schmid said. "Today was a very important moment for him. And a very important step as well. I was very, very pleased with what he did today."

This win could be a seminal moment in his young career. The day he began to get it. The day his work rate caught up with his enormous talent. Montero almost had a hat trick, but was robbed by Perkins in the 88th minute, stealing his header just off the line.

"Strikers are all about confidence, but there's that thing about how do you build that confidence," said keeper Kasey Keller. "Confidence starts, I think, by putting in good days of hard work.

"You start thinking, 'I'm working hard in training. I'm banging in more goals in training.' And then, somehow, it translates into games.

"Hopefully, this is a turning point for Fredy. That he does understand it. This win was a team effort, but we needed our goal scorer today to pop a couple into the back of the net."

Schmid was asked if the sky is the limit for his young striker.

"Rather than saying the sky's the limit for him," Schmid said, "I'm going to say that hard work's the answer for him. If he works hard, there are a lot of things he can achieve."

And there are a lot of places Fredy Montero can take this team.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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