Before Sigi Schmid’s coaching career began at UCLA in 1977, he was often frustrated with the goalkeeping on the club teams he played on. He vowed before he coached his first game that he would always have good goalkeepers and that has held true throughout his illustrious career.
At UCLA, he had the likes of Brad Friedel, Kevin Hartman, Matt Reis and Nick Rimando in net, and he’s had no shortage of accomplished goalkeepers in his MLS career with the LA Galaxy, Columbus Crew and Sounders FC. It’s the position that has been the backbone to his MLS-record 187 career victories, two MLS Cup titles, two Supporters’ Shield winners and four U.S. Open Cups to his credit.
That is no different in Seattle this year, where Marcus Hahnemann and Stefan Frei are competing for the starting spot. Schmid feels that competition is the key to having great goalkeeping.
“In all my years of coaching, I’ve been very fortunate because in my years at UCLA we had a number of quality goalkeepers, but it always happened because we had two quality guys at the same time,” Schmid said. “To really produce great goalkeepers, I think you’ve got to have that competition. Some goalkeepers don’t like to have competition because they want to know they are definitely the guy. I think at the end, that’s OK, but it doesn’t make you as good as you can be. I think right now being in a good, competitive situation, it’s going to make our goalkeepers better.”
In Hahnemann, Schmid has a sage veteran of two World Cups and 12 seasons in England. He has won championships with Seattle’s A-League Sounders in 1995 and 1996 and led Reading to a Premier League promotion in the 2005-2006 season. Last season, he played four matches in goal for Seattle, posting a 1.00 goals against average and a 2-2-0 record with one shutout. At 41 years old, he is also a tremendous locker room presence for a team that opted for youth in many of its offseason moves.
Frei, meanwhile, is 27 years old and was a promising standout on Toronto FC for three seasons. He was the team’s No. 1 goalkeeper from 2009-2011, but injuries derailed his progress in 2012 and 2013. All told, he posted a 20-35-25 record with 19 shutouts and a 1.54 goals against average.
His lack of first-team activity over the last two years isn’t a concern for Schmid, though.
“He was a quality goalkeeper his first three years in the league and he hasn’t lost that,” Schmid said. “He lost a little bit of confidence in the interim because he hadn’t played, but once that confidence gets restored, I think his quality will come out.”
For Frei, the competition with Hahnemann has accelerated that rejuvenation.
“I think it’s really important that in every position you have competition. That’s going to raise the level of the players and then that is going to result in a better team,” Frei said. “It’s been really nice to work on my technique again and freshen up and include a couple new things here and there. I think I’ve seen some improvement in my game and I’m excited about that. I can’t wait to get better and hopefully help this team in whatever capacity that I’m called upon.”
In addition to Frei and Hahnemann, Josh Ford has also returned from injuries that sidelined him in 2013 and has been a lively addition to training sessions.
Schmid has not named his opening day starter yet, but whoever is chosen will be bolstered by the confidence instilled by Seattle’s coaches at a position held in very high esteem.
“It’s always been an important position for me because I think those are guys that through making plays can change games,” Schmid said.
Marcus Hahnemann; 41 years old, 6’3”, 220 pounds; 41-27-0, 14 shutouts, 1.55 GAA in MLS
Stefan Frei; 27 years old, 6’3”, 195 pounds; 20-35-24, 19 shutouts, 1.54 GAA in MLS
Josh Ford; 26 years old, 6’, 175 pounds; No MLS experience