Stefan Frei’s save on Jozy Altidore in extra time in the MLS Cup Final will rightfully go down as one of the best plays in Seattle Sounders franchise history. Frei’s effort kept the championship match scoreless and sent it to penalty kicks where he added another save to help the Sounders hoist their first MLS Cup.
Frei’s breathtaking stop didn’t just wow fans and players — Chad Marshall called it “the best save I’ve ever seen in person” — but it also impressed former United States international great and Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
“Everything kind of went into slow motion,” said Keller, who was color commenting the final on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM. “It’s one of the keys to goalkeeping: You never quit regardless if you think you’re beat anyway and Stefan kept going and the ball dropped enough for him to pull it back from the brink.”
Frei was coming back to the center of his net where the ball was crossed as Altidore skied and headed whence Frei started. He adjusted instantaneously, took a step to his left and lunged full-extension to deny a goal with his fingertips.
Keller said the instinct not to quit comes from repetition in training and from being yelled at after giving up on a ball. Sometimes goalkeepers dive for shots they have no chance at reaching and people question why they even bother. Frei’s save on Altidore is the very reason why they do it.
“There are times, and they’re not often, when you dive for a ball and you made the save and you say to yourself, ‘I really wasn’t expecting to make that save,’” said Keller. “But there’s a reason why they’re pro goalkeepers, it’s because they have an ability.”
Frei, who earned MLS Cup MVP honors, deflected much of the praise and recognition he received for his save onto goalkeeping coach Tommy Dutra and fellow Sounders goalkeepers Tyler Miller and Charlie Lyon. Frei’s coaching, repetition and natural abilities all factored into a split-second reaction.
There are goalkeepers known for their flamboyance and spectacular saves, Keller explained, and then there are goalkeepers who are consistent and steady. In his three years in Seattle, Frei has developed into an incredible hybrid.
“I think Stefan has become a goalkeeper who should be counted on to make big saves and also counted on not to make many mistakes,” said Keller. “It’s a good credit to where Stefan is right now in his career.
“He went from the goalkeeping wilderness after he left Toronto to really becoming one of the top goalkeepers in MLS.”
Frei finished the regular season with 91 saves, a 1.24 goals against average and eight shutouts. He was one of the most reliable Sounders over the latter half of the season and his performance only increased the deeper into the playoffs the Sounders went.
Frei may not always get the recognition or appreciation he fully deserves, but he will be forever immortalized for his spark of brilliance when it mattered most in the biggest match in Sounders history.
“In goalkeeping, it’s about making key saves in key times for your team,” Keller said, “and Stefan made a huge save at a huge time that helped his team win the MLS Cup.”