Fredy Montero isn’t sure what to expect Wednesday night.
One of the catalysts for the resurgent Vancouver Whitecaps, the striker will be making his return to Seattle to take on the rival Sounders — the club that gave him his start in Major League Soccer and allowed him to eventually fulfil a dream of playing in Europe.
"Honestly, I don’t know," Montero said when asked how he thinks the crowd at CenturyLink Field will react. "I’m excited to see that. I respect all the people in Seattle.
"I have a good past with them."
With 13 goals to match his career-high in MLS, the Colombian has helped push the Whitecaps (14-9-6) to first place atop the crowded Western Conference thanks to a seven-game unbeaten run (5-0-2).
Vancouver sits a point better than the Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City, while Seattle (11-8-11) is four back.
Montero’s connection to the Sounders isn’t just a case of a player suiting up against his former team. He spent four seasons with Seattle from 2009 to 2012, buried the club’s first goal in MLS, and won three domestic U.S. Open Cup titles.
The 30-year-old also met his future wife while playing for the Sounders.
"It was a good time," said Montero. "Seattle adopted me."
He scored 47 goals and set up 34 others in 119 regular-season games, but with an eye towards playing overseas, the Sounders let him to return to Colombia on loan in 2013 before a similar move to Portuguese giants Sporting CP was eventually made permanent.
After three seasons in Portugal, Montero was sold to Tianjin Teda of the Chinese Super League in 2016. Despite scoring nine goals in 29 appearances, his stay was short-lived as newly implemented rules regarding foreign players paved the way for the club to loan him to Vancouver.
"(Seattle) gave me the opportunity to go to Europe and to make my dream come true," added Montero. "I’m so thankful to them."
Thankful off the pitch, that is.
On it, Montero has been lethal against the Sounders in two home games at B.C. Place Stadium this season, scoring twice in a 2-1 victory back in April before adding another goal last month as the 10-man Whitecaps salvaged a 1-1 draw.
A designated player earning US$1.8 million, Montero has formed a great understanding with electric midfielder Yordy Reyna in Vancouver, scoring four times and adding four assists during the club’s unbeaten run.
The Whitecaps, who could clinch a playoff spot as early as Wednesday, control their own destiny in the hunt for first place in the West with five games remaining on the schedule.
Vancouver has largely flown under the radar in a league where clubs with bigger budgets and brighter stars get more attention, but the Whitecaps are content to quietly go about their business.
"If people want to give us credit, great," said head coach Carl Robinson, whose team is 8-2-3 over its last 13. "If they don’t, hey, no problem.
"I’ll shake your hand and smile."
After the matchup against the Sounders, the Whitecaps travel to Kansas City to meet Sporting on Saturday — a tough stretch against teams that have combined to lose just once at home this season.
"Those are the games you want to play," said Vancouver goalkeeper David Ousted. "Those are the games that make it fun."
The Whitecaps have the top road record in the West at 5-6-2 thanks to an ability to grind out results with a squad that has more depth than the club has ever had since joining MLS in 2011.
"Every game that we play against Seattle, we know they’re tough," said Robinson. "We’ll go and attack that game. We’ll have a right go."
And that attack will centre around Montero, who is both anxious and excited for what will be an emotional return.
"I don’t know what’s going to happen," said Montero. "I’m just going to try and win the game for my team."
Notes: Whitecaps defender Kendall Waston is eligible to play after serving a one-game suspension. … The Sounders have one loss and four ties over their last five. … Kansas City has five games left on its schedule, while Seattle has four, and Portland just three.