Fredy Montero will not be playing for the Seattle Sounders in 2013. Of this, we can finally be sure. The team finally made a formal announcement on Monday about their Designated Player's long-rumored loan to Millonarios, revealing Montero would go to his native country for a year while also signing a "multi-year" extension with the Sounders.
This is an undeniable "end of an era" in Seattle. Montero was one of just seven Sounders who were with the team on First Kick in 2009 when they made their triumphant premiere in MLS. Only Osvaldo Alonso had played more minutes for the Sounders and no player on the team had played a bigger role in their offensive success.
Montero's 47 goals and 34 assists were by far the best on the team and were among the best in MLS. That was the thir highest goal total in MLS over that time and only Dwayne De Rosario had more combined goals and assists (82) in league play.
What really made Montero stand out, though, was the way he performed across multiple competitions. While helping the Sounders win three U.S. Open Cups, advance to the finals of another one and twice leading them into the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, Montero tallied 60 goals and 43 assists. Chris Wondolowski's 67 all-competition goals are the only higher total and no player is really anywhere close to Montero's 103 combined points.
To say the Sounders are left with a rather enormous hole to fill is probably an understatement. The team's active leader in goals scored is now Steve Zakuani (17 in MLS, 19 in all competitions), who is still recovering from a devastating leg injury. Mauro Rosales is now clearly the team's top playmaker, with 29 all-competition assists over the past two seasons, but injuries have caused him to miss five of the Sounders' six playoff games during his time with the team.
The one-year nature of the loan will allow the Sounders to replace Montero's Designated Player spot, but time is quickly running out if they are to have someone ready in time for the March 2 start of the season. The Sounders have been rumored to have made several offers (most notably for Valencia's Nelson Valdez), but so far it seems that finding a replacement is easier said than done.
It's also unclear what this ultimately means for Montero's future with the Sounders. Considering Montero agreed to a multi-year extension, that means he's probably under contract with the Sounders through at least 2016. While they are probably hoping to find someone to pay his rumored $4.5 million fee to make a transfer permanent, Montero could very feasibly be back in Seattle if no one is willing to pay that heft sum for a player who is coming perilously close to simply being the player he's going to be.
The Sounders and, to a degree, Montero are surely hoping that this is the move that gives him the jumpstart we've all been waiting for. Since Montero burst onto the MLS scene in 2009, success has come remarkably easy. His goals seem to come as a result of brilliance, rather than hard work. His assists almost always blind looks or jaw-dropping crosses, rarely simple lay-offs to a wide-open opponent. He clearly never deserved the "lazy" label that so many wanted to place on him, but there was constantly a sense that he could be more than he was.
Now that he'll be gone for at least a year, maybe we'll better be able to appreciate what he was: Possibly the most talented player to ever join MLS at such a young age.