In the waning moments of Sounders FC’s 1-0 win over D.C. United on Saturday, Eddie Johnson had a blistering shot from close range on the left side. Stefan Frei had only faced one shot on goal to that point, but still had the wherewithal to stand his ground at the near post and cover the net with any means necessary. He made the decisive save – albeit off his face – and secured victory for Seattle in its first match back from the three-week World Cup break in a willowy strong performance by the defense.
After leading the league in shots faced and saves over his first three seasons in MLS, Frei is just fine with quiet nights on the defensive side like he had on Saturday.
“You want to be part of a good team where you’re not facing shots. That’s what we have here,” Frei said. “It’s a bit harder to find your way into games and you have to stay switched on so in the 87th minute you can make that save.”
Playing for Toronto FC from 2009-2011, Frei faced 449 shots and made 312 saves, well ahead of the next highest totals in the league posted by Jon Busch, who faced 400 shots and made 297 saves.
Now, with a defense that’s as sharp as ever, Frei was able to shut down D.C. who led the Eastern Conference entering the weekend’s action.
“I thought we were very comfortable. You don’t necessarily need to be in possession of the ball to be in control of the game,” Frei said. “They had those two opportunities, but other than that, an excellent game defensively.”
Frei has posted three shutouts in the last five matches, but in those matches he only needed to make a total of four saves. While that’s a sign of a sturdy Seattle defense, it’s also an indication of how clutch Frei has been in those games, coming up big on the rare occurrences he has been called upon.
“It’s always easy – the Germans have an expression – when they shoot you warm. If you’re taking a lot of shots and you have to react to a lot of things on goal, you get into a good rhythm and your timing is there and you’re alert and you’re making saves,” Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “The hardest thing to do as a goalkeeper is to play behind a pretty solid defense and face 35 minutes of nothing and all of a sudden they have a great opportunity and you have to be alert and ready and sharp. That, for me, is the sign of a good goalkeeper.”
The challenges will continue for Frei, as Seattle faces a Vancouver Whitecaps FC team ranked third in MLS with 25 goals this season. Saturday’s Cascadia Cup match kicks off at 7 pm PT from BC Place.