Stefan Frei has done it plenty of times before during his distinguished stint in goal with the Seattle Sounders, but the veteran backstop’s heroics in Leg 2 of the club's Concacaf Champions League semifinals series against New York City FC on Wednesday represents some of his finest work yet.
Frei was massive in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw at Red Bull Arena, which clinched a 4-2 aggregate victory and a historic first CCL Final berth in club history, making seven saves total including multiple of the highlight-reel variety.
After the match, Frei’s praises were sung from both sides, as his teammates marveled at the performance on social media and NYCFC head coach Ronny Deila acknowledged his efforts.
“We created enough to score at least three goals, but their goalkeeper was unbelievable today,” said Deila.
It’s the latest in a growing list of big-game performances from the 35-year-old, who already has the greatest save in MLS Cup history to his name for his legendary swat of Jozy Altidore that preserved the club’s first league title and garnered Frei the game’s MVP honors.
While Frei would have preferred a less theatrical second half, he said that withstanding pressure as his team did on Wednesday is crucial in these two-legged knockout scenarios.
“A lot of effort put out there today,” said Frei. “They had us under good pressure and so we needed to put in a lot of effort. I’m proud of the guys. It’s not pretty sometimes but it’s a two-legged series and we put ourselves in a good position at home, then had a good first half. Second half, always things to improve on, we know that. We’re hungry. We’re happy we’re able to get a chance at a trophy.”
After a 3-1 result at Lumen Field in Leg 1 last week, Seattle put itself in a favorable position with a two-goal cushion heading into Wednesday’s match.
It became a survival test in the second half, but only after Raúl Ruidíaz had struck for a huge 28th-minute road goal that canceled out NYCFC’s lone goal of the match from Santiago Rodriguez in the 51st minute.
“We had to survive,” said Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “I thought the guy that just interviewed ahead of me [Frei] had a monster game. I thought he kept us in the game. And then you saw our quality with the one chance for Raul and he buries that.”
While Seattle are elated to be appearing the club’s first-ever CCL Final, Frei said the focus now must turn to correcting what led to the chaotic second half, with the goal of putting in a more complete performance in the away leg of the upcoming series.
Seattle draw a tough opponent in Liga MX foe Pumas UNAM, which advanced to the final by virtue of its semifinals victory over fellow Mexican side Cruz Azul.
“The one thing we know is that we cannot play a second half that we played today in Mexico or we’re going to run out of juice very quickly,” said Frei. “Again, I think we put in a lot of effort, but if we’re going to put ourselves under so much pressure in Mexico City it’s going to very, very difficult. So they have a good side and we’re going to look at [what] makes them tick and also look at what we want to exploit or want to target. But it’ll be a good final.”
Leg One of the Concacaf Champions League Final will be held at Estadio Olímpico Universitario on April 27 (7:30 p.m. PT), with the second leg taking place on May 4 at Lumen Field (7:00 p.m. PT | TICKETS). Season Ticket Members can access a special pre-sale window to purchase tickets for the home leg of the CCL Final starting tomorrow, April 14 from 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. PT. The public on-sale begins at 3:00 p.m. PT and tickets are available exclusively online through SoundersFC.com.
Concacaf Champions League Final Tickets On Sale Now
The Seattle Sounders are going to the Concacaf Champions League Final for the first time in club history. Come support the team as we take on Liga MX's Pumas UNAM and try to become the first MLS club to win CCL and go to the FIFA Club World Cup!