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In the waning minutes of Sounders FC’s win over Portland on Sunday, Stefan Frei came off his line to corral a dangerous free kick, but the Seattle goalkeeper bobbled it out of bounds and gave the Timbers another chance. It was the lone mistake of the evening for Frei, who was otherwise stellar in the 1-0 result that marked his league-leading fourth shutout of the season.

“Stefan came up to me after the game and said, ‘Sorry, I made that more exciting than it needed to be,’” Head Coach Sigi Schmid noted in his post-match press conference. “And I said, ‘Just think back to where you were a year ago, how far you’ve come.’ I am just really happy for him because I think he is showing our fans and people around the league the quality goalkeeper that he is.”

Last season, Frei finished with a career high in shutouts (nine) and an MLS record in the post-shootout era for wins (20), but it took him some time to become comfortable. The Sounders gave up 11 goals in the first seven games and didn’t earn their fourth clean sheet until the 14th match.

Before the season began, Sounders FC players and coaches cited defense as the area where they needed to improve the most. Despite the club’s overall success in 2014, Seattle gave up 50 goals during the regular season, the largest number among playoff teams.

Seven games into the 2015 campaign, the Sounders are already showing vast improvements.

In its most recent effort, the club was able to keep Portland off the scoreboard despite playing without reigning MLS Defender of the Year Chad Marshall. The Timbers had a handful of shots that nearly found the net, but other than that, it was another strong outing for Frei and the backline in front of him.

Following Sunday’s victory, the Rave Green are tied with the New York Red Bulls for fewest goals conceded (five). In addition to Frei’s four shutouts, Seattle has allowed multiple goals just once, resulting in a 4-2-1 start.

The team's early success has been accompanied by some defensive changes in front of Frei. This season, captain Brad Evans is playing centerback for the first time in his seven years with the Sounders. He admittedly made some costly mistakes in Seattle’s loss to San Jose in week two, but ever since, Evans has settled in nicely alongside his close friend Marshall.

Tyrone Mears has quickly established himself as a dependable right back, and on the left, Dylan Remick is making great strides in his third season as a pro. Not to mention, Ozzie Alonso is healthy and providing the Sounders a stout defensive presence in the midfield.

After starting at left back for the first three games, veteran Leonardo Gonzalez has made a trio of substitution appearances during the month of April.

“I would describe it as having two starting leftbacks, and right now I am playing Remick,” Schmid said. “If you were to watch us at training, Leo and Remick work together all the time. They are trying to help each other out. Right now I am playing Remick, but I am equally confident in Leo.”

With the defense progressing every week and the attacking players consistently scoring goals as they did last year, Sounders FC is once again near the top of the MLS standings. The club also leads the Western Conference in points per match (1.86) and goal differential (plus-five).

The Rave Green will be on the road for the next three weeks, starting with their first game against expansion side New York City FC on Sunday at Yankee Stadium. Kickoff is set for 4:00 p.m. PT with FOX Sports 1 carrying the match nationally.

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