For the Los Angeles Galaxy, all eyes will be focused on the Seattle Sounders’ strike force in tonight’s opening match of the 2011 Major League Soccer season.
“They have a lot of weapons,” said Todd Dunivant Monday, one of the Galaxy defenders. “When you look at their DPs, they are all on offensive end. You have (Steve) Zakuani with a lot of speed on the outside. You have (Alvaro) Fernandez, who is a very good player who came in late last year. Fredy Montero is always active, hes always sniffing stuff out around the goal. Its always difficult. You have to stay on our toes.”
Dunivant reserved special praise for Montero, though, calling the Colombian marksman the league’s ultimate “goal-poacher.”
He can turn on a dime and find little spots, but hes always poaching out goals and finding little seams,” Dunivant said. “The second you switch off, hes right there to smash it in.
Hes done that to us a few times, Dunivant said. Hes kind of the total package.
How the Galaxy defense shuts down Montero is one of the key narratives for tonight’s match at Qwest Field, where hes scored 14 goals in 29 league games since his debut in 2009.
Montero has played well in season openers. He scored two goals and added an assist in the Sounders 3-0 win over the New York Red Bulls in their inaugural game at Qwest, then added a goal and an assist in the teams 2-0 win over the Philadelphia Union in the 2010 season opener in Seattle.
Though Montero suffered a goal drought during the long preseason, he picked up the pace in the Sounders’ final preseason match against Colorado Rapids, scoring two goals. He looked much sharper. What’s more, he thrives on the faster pitch at Qwest and loves to play before 36,000 home supporters.
The Galaxy are acutely aware of this fact. They give Montero the ultimate respect — finding ways to shut him down and never leave their sight. The defense limited Montero to just seven total shots and kept him off the scoreboard during two matches in the Western Conference semifinals last season.
“We did a good job of really being aware of the space behind us,” Dunivant said. “Last year they tried to utilize their speed on the flanks and tried to use their speed to get behind us with their fast wingers. When we were able to keep them in front of us, it was hard for them to come up with answers.”
Galaxy manager Bruce Arena agreed that Montero is Seattle’s most dangerous player — among many players who can score and cause problems for the Galaxy.
I would say Juan Pablo Angel is more of a goal poacher, Arena said. Fredys a playmaker as well, and probably has more dimensions as an attacking player than just sitting in front of the goal and sniffing out opportunities. Hes a fabulous player.
Wherever he is on the field, Arena stressed, weve gotta be aware of him.
But, Arena said, there’s more to Seattle’s game than just Montero.
“Zakuani has always played well against us,” Arena said. “(Kasey) Keller is still a terrific pro in the goal. I think their center back duo is a good one in (Jeff) Parke and (Jhon Kennedy) Hurtado. Osvaldo (Alonso) has always played well against us.
“We dont know the new player (Erik) Friberg that well,” Arena added. “I dont think there’s one player you can focus on. They have a very balanced team.”
So, how does the Galaxy plan to beat the Sounders?
“We need everyone to pitch in,” Dunivant said. “You need your midfielders to help because those guys are a handful. Fernandez likes to come off the line and show in little gaps and so you need your central midfielder helping out, and you need Landon (Donovan) tucking in.
“It makes a difference,” Dunivant said. “You cant have your four defenders out there working defensively. We had 11 guys doing the hard work last year.
“If we can do that again and keep them in front of us and make it difficult on them to penetrate and get behind our defense, then it makes for a good day.”