Kicking the can on Fredy Montero’s MVP case

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Steve brought it up in his Power Rankings. I’m here to add the next layer: Fredy Montero? Legitimate MVP candidate?

Let’s let Steve kick us off:

Fredy Montero has 12 goals and 6 assists. And his goals always seem to have that certain panache.  (Did you see that out-of-nowhere shot and goal in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Portland?) If the feisty Colombian attacker can boost that assist rate just a tad and add, say, two or three more goals over the Sounders’ final six matches, can’t we make a compelling argument for league MVP?

Absolutely we can, and I don’t think we need to wait until he tacks on a few assists. Watching games alone should tell you Fredy Montero should at least be considered. That compelling argument that we need goes something like this: Right now, he’s Major League Soccer’s best player.

That’s not a slam dunk. Reasonable minds can disagree on who’s MLS’s best at the moment, but Montero’s case is pretty clear. Goals like this Saturday’s against Portland are becoming remarkably common during the stretch run. Even when it’s teammates getting the nods, it’s Fredy doing the work. Eddie Johnson won Player of the Week last week, but it was Montero that was the game’s real star.

When you watch game after game and one guy is clearly so much better than everybody else, that’s an MVP case of its own. Does it need more support? Absolutely. That’s where the details, stats, and results come into play. But when you watch Fredy Montero play, there’s no doubt this guy is one of Major League Soccer’s elites.

By the numbers …

Steve brings up one of two mitigating issues: Statistics. Montero’s 12 goals are tied for sixth in the league. Among MVP candidates, only Chris Wondolowski and Thierry Henry have more (unless you consider Eddie Johnson a candidate). When it comes to the game’s most important stat, Montero’s going to have much of the MVP field beat.

But as Steve points out, it would be nice if Montero had more assists, even if his six already put him 17th in the league. Adding more might be a bit of a problem, though, considering the talent Montero has around him. After all, only one, maybe two players can have assists on a given goal, and when you’re not the guy delivering corners or providing service from set pieces, you’re already missing out on a lot of easy helpers.

Montero does some dead ball duty in Seattle, but usually only when the ball’s going to be put on goal (or injuries cast him into the role). Mauro Rosales and, since being acquired, Christian Tiffert are the men responsible for putting in the dead ball crosses. Add in the amount of time Rosales is on the ball in open play and the same qualities that make Seattle such a strong team end up keeping Montero’s assist numbers down.

Does that make Montero a better, worse, or even less productive player? Not really. In this case, we need to look beyond the numbers. Whether voters will do that is an entirely different issue.

Battling perception

The second mitigating issue is perception, one I’ve addressed before in this space (so forgive me for beating a dead horse on this one). Every year around June there’s a feeling that Montero is not playing as well as he could. Some reference potential. Others cite the need to step up. MLSSoccer.com’s Jonah Freedman discussed the issue earlier this summer, and ProSoccerTalk’s own Noah Davis jumped in that camp.

A guy who averages double-digit goals and eight assists per year (over four years) doesn’t need to step up. This is a problem of perception. We need to step down.

Montero burst on the seen so quickly and at such a young age, we all projected him for super stardom. Maybe it was our baseball-esque need to escalate young players’ numbers into the future. Maybe we just saw something we thought would explode, but just because he hasn’t put up a 17-goal, 15-assist season doesn’t mean he isn’t one of the league’s best players. What it probably means is that we got a little bit too excited, too soon about one of MLS’s brightest talents.

Judged independent of those perceptions, Montero has an unimpeachable career, unless you want to condemn all players who have swoons within seasons. But to do that would be to indict everybody in the league. The season is long and congested. Players go through spells.

Landon Donovan, Dwayne De Rosario – why am I listing names? This will go on forever. Every player in the league his high points. They also have lows. They’re subject to the save variations for which Fredy Montero gets criticized.

And it’s not fair. It’s not fair to hold Montero subject to a standard that we don’t use for everybody else. And it’s also unfair that Montero’s inability to meet that standard – the perception that his performance varies more than his peers – is so pervasive as to cloud his MVP candidacy.

So Montero didn’t immediately build on his 12-goal, seven-assist rookie season?  The seasons that have followed (all in line with his first) have made him one of the league’s standout players. At the point we’re asking for more than that, we need to reevaluate our standards.

And once those standards are reevaluated, you start to see what Montero is doing. Right now, he’s doing more than anybody in the league. When you watch him play, it’s difficult to fathom a better player in Major League Soccer.

Does that make Montero the league’s MVP? Does it make up for the edge other candidates had coming into the season’s final months? That’s what this debate is about, but surely, at this point, Montero’s earned his spot in the discussion.