When the Seattle Sounders headed into the locker room following their 1-0 win at the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday, a result that pushed their unbeaten record to 4-1-0 and four points clear in the Supporters’ Shield standings, the mood was far more somber than one would have expected. The Sounders won the match, although midfielder Cristian Roldan called the game “emotionally draining,” as they lost starting goalkeeper Stefan Frei and midfielder and defensive utility piece Jordy Delem to injuries.
Delem’s diagnosis was the worse of the two, with Head Coach Brian Schmetzer confirming on Wednesday that Delem had ACL damage and would require surgery. Frei’s outlook, however, was far more promising than perhaps it originally appeared. Schmetzer said his No. 1 had a sprained knee and was likely looking at missing 4-6 weeks, a much more manageable timeline for both Frei and the club.
In the meantime, Schmetzer was mum on which of his two backup goalkeepers, Stefan Cleveland and Spencer Richey, would get the start on Sunday when the Sounders host LAFC (6:30 p.m. PT; FS1, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM | TICKETS), but he was optimistic with either selection.
“[Next man up] has been our mantra for as long as I’ve been here,” said Schmetzer. “We’ve missed big players in the past due to injury, due to international duty, for various reasons. The next guy just has to step forward and understand his role and do the best he can to help the team win.”
Added Club Director of Goalkeeping Tommy Dutra: “I’m very excited about our group as a whole. All three of them push each other. Cleveland has been with us for a year now, and he’s got some experience in the league. Same with Spencer. They’re both ready for whomever gets the call.”
Cleveland joined the Sounders in 2020 from the Chicago Fire, where he made five appearances in three seasons, with his last start coming in 2018. Richey, meanwhile, is a Seattle native and University of Washington product who signed with the club this past offseason from FC Cincinnati, where he made nine starts last year.
Spencer Richey (L) with Stefan Cleveland
If anything, it will take some getting used to for players and fans alike to have someone other than Frei in between the posts. Having joined in 2014, he is the longest-tenured Sounder and is second in the club’s MLS history in games and minutes played, and he’s missed just five total matches in seven seasons.
“We have been so used to Stef coming up with big saves in critical moments, and he’s done such a good job for the club, so yes, sometimes you almost take it for granted that he’s here and has been durable,” said Schmetzer, who had his sentiments echoed by Roldan.
“Stefan Frei is going to be hard to replace, but having two backups who compete at the level that they do is something that’s extremely important for our team,” Roldan said. “The competition is what makes this goalkeeper’s union so special.”
The Sounders know that LAFC is not going to have any pity on them. Bob Bradley’s team is heading to Seattle with just five points from four matches while dealing with injuries of their own to star players Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi, the last two MLS Golden Boot winners. Sunday will also be the first time LAFC visits Lumen Field since the Sounders knocked them out of the MLS Cup Playoffs last season.
“We have a target on our back because we’re in first place,” said Schmetzer. “Whether it’s LAFC or Atlanta or Austin or LA Galaxy or Vancouver, they’re coming because we’ve actually started out very well. Bob Bradley is a tremendous coach. He knows exactly what to do to try and win MLS games.”
Added Roldan: “We’re going to be facing a tough LAFC side, a side that’s also dealt with injuries and been on the wrong side of results. We may have a bit of a target on our back, not because of what we did last year, but because of what we’re doing this year. We’re in a new formation, we’re not conceding and we’re still finding ways to win games without some of our best players.
“It’s been a great start to the season for us playing without Jordan [Morris] and Nico [Lodeiro] and having the record that we have right now is pretty good. We’re really happy with where we’re at right now, but we understand it’s a long season and we’re playing tough opponents.”