Jamiro Monteiro inherited the Union’s No. 10 jersey last year, but he didn’t play the position associated with soccer’s most famous shirt — central attacking midfield — much while wearing it.
This year, that has changed. Because of the Union’s injury pileup at striker, Monteiro was moved into the role in the Concacaf Champions League round of 16 series while Anthony Fontana went up to the front line.
The result was one of the best games Monteiro has ever played for the Union, in one of the biggest games in team history.
In Wednesday night’s 4-0 win over Saprissa at Subaru Park, Monteiro registered two goals, two assists, four shots (three on target), four chances created, four interceptions and nine recoveries. He completed 43 of 48 passes, including a perfect 6-for-6 on long balls and 2-for-2 on crosses.
Monteiro’s performance came at an important time in more ways than just the game’s stakes. On Tuesday night, Union president Tim McDermott signaled to fans in an online town hall that the team’s success last year made him believe it’s better to focus the team’s roster on young academy products than on buying high-profile international players.
“You either believe in player development through youth or you don’t, and we are 1,000% in that boat — but I’ll also say, it’s easy for me to say that today when we’ve had some successes,” McDermott said. “It was not easy to say that, you know, a few years back when we had a little fruit tree that was still growing. And there was many times that we discussed it and debated it, and it would be easy, quite frankly, for me to say hey, let’s go scrap that and get name brand players that will help put people in the seats.”
Then came the kicker.
“That doesn’t always translate to winning,” McDermott said. “Now that we’ve had the success, I’m so much more further committed than ever before in terms of this is the way to do it.”
Those remarks naturally caused an uproar among Union fans who watched the team bank $12 million in transfer revenue this past winter. It’s one thing to wait until after the European season ends to make a move. It’s another to signal you aren’t going to make a move at all.
Monteiro’s $2 million transfer fee is the most the Union have ever spent on a player. It’s not a coincidence that he’s the team’s most important player, and one of the best international signings in team history.
But he can’t play every minute of every game, especially when the Union play three games a week. That will start happening later this month, with the Champions League quarterfinal games against Atlanta United taking place midweek between MLS regular-season contests.
Once Cory Burke is back to full health, Fontana will be able to slide back into midfield. But that likely won’t be enough for the Union to win another trophy this year. Nor should it satisfy the ambitions of fans who want their team to be a big deal.
Simply put: There’s nothing stopping any team in MLS from having a strong academy and making major international signings. The time will come soon when the Union need the depth and quality of a big attacking addition.
Now let’s take a quick look at a few other notable performances in Wednesday’s win.
The most important thing he did wasn’t his well-taken goal that capped off the Union’s scoring torrent early in the second half. It was falling over.
Fontana didn’t dive to win the penalty kick he drew, to be clear. There was definitely contact. But he knew what he was doing.
“I wanted to stay up, because if I stayed up, then I had a decent angle to possibly put it in,” he said after the game. “But you know what? I went down, we scored the first goal off a pen [shorthand for a penalty kick], and the rest is history.”
Fontana was wearing a mask while he spoke. We don’t know if he was hiding a grin underneath it. If he was, he’s allowed. Using a little bit of street smarts in a Concacaf game is fine from here.
After a few ugly moments in the first half, his towering header to make the score 2-0 means he has scored in back-to-back games to start the year. That’s great news.
He drew raves on Twitter during the game for a few skill-check plays, but his passing wasn’t great overall: 33 of 45, a 73% completion rate. His four interceptions and four recoveries were just as important, though, and maybe more.