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Updated Friday, November 16, 2012 at 12:19 PM

Why the Sounders should keep Eddie Johnson and say goodbye to Fredy Montero next year

By Steve Kelley
Seattle Times staff columnist

Eddie and Fredy could have been magical. They could have been the goal-scoring tandem that took Seattle by storm and took Sounders FC to the MLS Cup.

Certainly that was the plan when the front office made the most dramatic trade in the franchise's four seasons, acquiring Eddie Johnson from Montreal.

Johnson, 28, was supposed to light a fire under Fredy Montero. His ability to time runs and put himself in dangerous scoring position was supposed to take the some of the offensive load off Montero.

Johnson's skill in the air looked like the perfect complement to Montero's magic with the ball at his feet.

Eddie and Fredy could do for Seattle what Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, the perfectly matched Yin and Yang forwards, were doing for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

At least that was the thought.

But Eddie and Fredy never consistently clicked. They never found a lasting chemistry. They had problems with each other on the field and off. It always was an uncomfortable partnership.

Like Freddie Ljungberg, Blaise Nkufo, Nate Jaqua and Mike Fucito before him, Johnson became frustrated with Montero's fade-in, fade-out work rate.

For four years, coach Sigi Schmid has patiently coaxed and cajoled and waited for Montero to grow up, to put all of that talent together for one MVP season.

For four years we've seen flashes of Fredy — moments of undisputed brilliance, goals so artistic and creative they felt like the harbingers of greatness.

So many times Montero has teased his team into thinking he has arrived, only to lapse into another Saharan dry spell. He hasn't played like the designated player he is. He hasn't been Donovan to Johnson's Keane. He hasn't been willing to do the work and make the runs that would open up space for Johnson.

And now, for the fourth playoff season in a row, Montero is goal-less.

How many quality runs did he have in the 3-0 loss to the Galaxy? I don't remember any. He looked uninspired, as if he were angry that his coach had played a formation that left him as the lone striker.

Barring a miracle, the Sounders' season will end Sunday at CenturyLink Field against the Galaxy. And after that game, the franchise will have to make choices.

Someone has to go. Eddie? Or Fredy? Or dump both and start all over?

If the Sounders ask me — and they haven't — I would say keep Johnson.

They've waited four years for Montero, 25, to arrive. They've held up the franchise's development, waiting for the explosion that never came.

It isn't that Montero isn't good. He's just not good enough. He plays and produces only in spurts.

There is no denying his contribution to the franchise. It can be argued that his two goals and one assist in the team's inaugural 3-0 win over New York Red Bulls on March 19, 2009, was the spark that made the Sounders the hottest ticket in town.

Montero has scored 47 goals in four seasons. He has 13 goals in 33 games this season (Johnson has 14 in 28 games), but he has never shown an ability or a willingness to make his teammates better. And as a designated player, he is supposed to raise the level of his game in the playoffs.

Sticking with Johnson isn't an easy call. Johnson has injury issues. His sore adductor (thigh) has kept him quiet in the playoffs. He was ineffective when he replaced Montero in the second half Sunday.

He has his own issues with teammates. He has had altercations with Montero and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado.

It's always a fine line between risk and reward with Johnson, and if he returns to the Sounders, Schmid will have to do a better job of managing a player who is very difficult to manage.

But Johnson makes dazzling, well-timed runs off the ball. He's smart. And he knows what it's like to play in the big occasions. He showed in recent World Cup qualifiers with the U.S. national team that he can produce in must-win moments.

Johnson has the skill to run defenders ragged. He is brilliant in the air. He is exactly what a designated player should be, even though he isn't one.

The Sounders come into Sunday's second leg of the Western Conference finals down 3-0. Against a team as formidable as the Galaxy, a team that counterattacks better than any team in the league, Seattle's chances of making it to the MLS Cup are somewhere between slim and none.

The season probably will end Sunday night. And the slow process of soul-searching and decision-making will begin.

Eddie? Fredy? Or start all over again?

It's a very tough call.

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

Sunday

L.A. Galaxy @ Sounders FC, 6 p.m., ESPN


DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Fredy Montero, left, and Eddie Johnson, middle, haven't clicked like Seattle hoped.








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