CARSON, Calif. – What’s the difference between a lazy talent and a Major League Soccer superstar? The calendar. Hopefully, only the calendar.
This summer, we dealt with the annual “Fredy Montero is lazy” meme, and this year, it lasted a little longer than usual. Thanks to Eddie Johnson and the emergence of Mauro Rosales, Seattle is less dependent on Montero than they were in in the wake of Freddie Ljundberg. That allowed Sigi Schmid to move Montero out of the team when he struggled, a treatment that only seemed to confirm the suspected illness.
It also meant the meme stuck around. Whereas Montero normally plays his way out of the mid-way, post-opening season excitement criticism, this year, he’s having to answer questions in later August. As he implied last night, he’s the same player in June as he is in September. His critics, however, come and go.
Lazy is a particularly harsh word in sports. It’s not like applying the word to a co-worker or your child. When projected onto athletes, it becomes highly charged – as if you’re insulting another person’s IQ. Fans who couldn’t dream of being athletes can always resort to lazy as a catch-all for ungrateful, arrogant, detached, and falsely empowered. All of those characteristics manifest to a lack of passion on the field, and all the jealousies of athletes’ lifestyle, affluence, and fame can be packed into that one, misused, four-letter word. Anybody can be not lazy.
Yet labeling Montero as lazy is itself lazy – the application of a standard to one player that is not as readily applied to others. The best example of this double standard is Landon Donovan. Donovan is amongst the league’s best players, but particularly as he’s embraced his 30s, he’s become more economical with his output, perhaps trying to avoid some of the fatigue that’s troubled him over the last two years (most notably during the 2011 Gold Cup). His sometimes all out, sometimes conserving effort is not unlike Montero’s (or most other attackers in the league), but would Donovan ever be criticized effort? Only sparingly. It would never become a meme. You don’t want to see Landon Donovan to be that guy.
Perhaps both Donovan and Montero – as well as an innumerable group of players throughout world soccer – are lazy, but I suspect the Montero meme is born of something different. Having scored 12 goals in his first MLS season, people expected more from Fredy. People expected him to continue on a career trajectory that would have him dominating the league and drawing bids from some of Europe’s best leagues (this may be why a large number of Montero is lazy believers are Sounders fans). But that hasn’t happened, so people are looking for causality without ever considering their initial expectations may have been flawed. Perhaps Montero was an eight-goal playing in 2009 but happened onto a few extra scores? Or perhaps defenses continue to adjust? Or maybe Montero’s role has evolved? There are a number of ways to explain his performance without being trite.
Montero as lazy is ironic in its laziness – a fans’ vent, one that rarely accurately describes what’s happening. So you can run. Can you do it when you’ve sprinted five kilometers over the previous hour? Or while you’re trying to pick-and-choose your battles over a 90-minute match? Or while you’re possibly trying to set your opponent up for another part of the teams’ plan, or something you plan to do later?
But fans shouldn’t be expected to hold back. They can act from emotion, even appeal to it. Writers, commentators, analysts? Bloggers? Few are paid to regurgitate.
And let’s go ahead and bring up the obvious but, to date, unspoken: You would hope, unless the evidence is incontrovertible, people would steer as clear as possible from anything like racially-fueled stereotypes, unintended through they may be. Not every Latino is lazy, and just because Montero does not have Osvaldo Alonso’s engine doesn’t mean we should be so flip about slipping into some of our past’s ugly mistakes. To be clear: It’s unlikely most labeling Montero as lazy are trying to generalize about Latinos. But the cliché is so pervasive that (like criticisms of hip-hop’s culture being veiled racism) it’s hard to separate the subtext from the intent. If Montero wasn’t Latino, would he be called lazy? If Eddie Johnson wasn’t black, would he be (exaggeratedly) portrayed as angry?
In that context, it’s hard not to love what Fredy Montero did on Saturday. Taking advantage of one of the worst defensive performances of the season, Montero scored three times (and assisted on Seattle’s opener), pushing his season’s goal total to 11. He career high is 12. Seattle has nine games left in the season – nine games to potentially kill this meme once and for all.
In four years, Montero’s scored 45 goals, having now played exactly 100 league games. His team has won three U.S. Open Cups, made the playoffs every year, and sit second in the West after Saturday night’s win.
Be brave. Call him lazy now. Or perhaps get Skip Bayless to do it. Just be fair and, like Fredy, be the same in August that you were in June, even if the results are different.
Players you’d want on your team (starters):
Chivas USA: Tristan Bowen, Miller Bolaños, Juan Agudelo
Seattle Sounders: Osvaldo Alonso, Christian Tiffert, Mauro Rosales, Fredy Montero, Brad Evans
Want more like this? Um, OK: More soccer notes.
Also of note: I’m highly lazy, myself. Not only does the italicized section above get semi-Baylessian, but I beat the drum on the Montero meme at Pro Soccer Talk in July.