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2021 Season in Review: Jamiro Monteiro

In his third season with the Union, the Cape Verde international continued his role as a dependable midfield engine and played like one of the most valuable DPs in the league. 

Shivant Krishnan

In his third season with the Philadelphia Union, Cape Verde international Jamiro Monteiro continued his role as a dependable midfield engine and played like one of the most valuable DPs in the league.

Five Union players appeared on the five Extratime Best XIs, and Monteiro wasn’t one of them, but that’s a combination of his positional awkwardness and average counting stats. Anyone watching the Union knows how important he is to their success on both sides of the ball.

He finished the season with roughly 2,300 minutes and two goals and six assists. He spent the early part of the season as the team’s No. 10 at the tip of the diamond in the 4-2-2-2, then some time back at the left shuttler spot where he spent most of last year, and most of the stretch run as left attacking mid in the Christmas Tree 4-3-21.

He also spent part of the summer in transfer rumors and was visibly unhappy after being subbed off early against Miami in August. Some reporting from Jonathan Tannenwald at the Philadelphia Inquirer suggested he was also upset over Covid-19 restrictions that prevented him from seeing his family as much as he wanted.

In any case, it seemed to simmer down before he was a crucial contributor to the Union’s stretch run to a second place spot in the Eastern Conference and the club’s first ever conference final.

Monteiro broke the Union transfer record with $2 million dollar free from Metz in 2020, and by all accounts, it was one of Ernst Tanner’s shrewdest bits of business. Transfermarket USA has his current value at $3.3 million, which makes sense at his age at 27, but I suspect he could fetch up to five or six million if a midtable Bundesliga club wanted his services.

At this point, let’s address why I called him one of the most valuable DPs in the league, despite his Best XI omission and his relatively modest stats.

Monteiro is able to handle a high volume of possession and is an exceptionally dangerous ball progressor capable of battering defenses over the course of 90 minutes. Defensively, he’s one of the most active pressing midfielders in the league. Overall, it takes an extreme motor to be able to do both of things at a high level, and it’s one of the reasons Monteiro’s game is suited for the physicality of MLS, and specifically for Tanner and Curtin’s Union, molded as a Moneyball Bundesliga imitation.

He’s not without his weaknesses and I tried to use my language carefully. He’s a dangerous ‘progressor’ but not necessarily a pure chance creator if you want to stack him up against the best in MLS, like Emmanuel Reynoso, Maxi Moralez or Carles Gil. He also gets in decent shooting positions and takes a fine number of shots, but he’s a rather mediocre finisher, and is especially wayward from distance.

So if you want to evaluate Monteiro as a 10, where he did play for stretches of the season, he’s good but not elite. He doesn’t unlock set defenses quite enough through his final ball, whether it’s passing or shooting.

But as a shuttling attacking midfielder, where the burden isn’t all on him to create, he’s dynamite. While he’s not elite at ball-winning or chance creation, he’s very, very good at both, and that type of two-way presence is just rare in MLS. There’s not really a spot for a shuttler on those MLS Best XIs by Extratime due to their positional strictness, and it’s no surprise that the only other midfielder from the Union on them is Bedoya, who is a similar two-way unflashy midfielder with an elite engine. I think the Union might be onto something with the way they spend their money.

I’ve tried to write about his skills abstractly, but the numbers really clearly paint this picture for Monteiro.

Here’s how he stacks up against other attacking midfielders and wingers, and then against just midfielders, thanks to data from Football Reference powered by Statsbomb.

He rates as a poor goalscorer but a solid creator, and he’s very active defensively for an attacker.

He’s good at nearly everything for a midfielder. 3.92 shot creating actions per 90 for a midfielder is elite.

All of this bears out with the Union’s success after August in their formation switch to the Christmas tree and their revitalization after rekindling their press in the home CCL leg against Americá. Monteiro is such a key cog for the Union in his ability to hunt transition moments, start them, and move the ball into dangerous areas.

Some more of his impressive stats from how he stacks up to other midfielders illustrate his skillset:

He ranks in the 90th percentile or better in per 90 stats for fouls drawn, key passes, dribbles completed, touches in the attacking third, passes into the penalty area, and pressures and tackles in the middle third.

I could have probably started my justification there, as just about any team in the MLS would take a player who ranked that highly in those areas. If we’re talking high volume two-way midfielders, the list of players in Monteiro’s company in the league is short. Numbers wise, it’s Joao Paulo, who showed himself to be the class of the league but is truly a CDM, and Mark Anthony-Kaye, another do-it-all midfielder.

Paulo was MVP caliber last season, and Kaye commanded $1 million in GAM from Colorado to be pried away from LAFC. The Canadian, at 27, has a $5.5 million value on Transfermarkt.

The Union have Monteiro for one more year and a club option for 2023. He was rumored to be linked with Feyenoord in the Netherlands and Anderlecht in Belgium, and perhaps a Brazilian club. I don’t think clubs are rushing in for him, but he is the type of player that could make nearly any team better. He’s a no-brainer for the Union to try and keep beyond his contract if he wants to stay, but a three million dollar or more profit would be a nice bit of business for a club that probably bets it can find the next version of Monteiro in a league like the French second division.

As for Monteiro, he’s in his prime and should continue to maintain his production for a strong Union team in 2022. He doesn’t need to play every game, but if anyone could it’s him. For him to go up a level, a truly dynamic No. 10 or a lethal No. 9 could make all the difference. If he can drive the ball in dangerous areas to even more dangerous players, the Union will be bonafide contenders. If not, he’s still a massive reason why their baseline is a playoff team.

Season Awards

2021 Concacaf Champions League Team of the Tournament
MLS Team of the Week Bench: Week 5
Brotherly Game Community Player of the Match: Inter Miami, April 24
FotMob Man of the Match: Nashville SC, October 24; Columbus Crew, June 24; New York Red Bulls, May 16; NYCFC, May 8