University of Washington physics professor analyzes Stefan Frei’s historic save in MLS Cup Final

Much has rightfully been made about goalkeeper Stefan Frei’s legendary save against Toronto FC that helped the Seattle Sounders win their first MLS Cup in franchise history.

Perhaps the biggest question being asked: How? How was Frei, who earned MLS Cup MVP honors, able to keep Jozy Altidore’s header in the second period of extra time out of the net?

Eager to answer that very question, GeekWire.com sat down with University of Washington associate physics professor and soccer fan Miguel Morales.

Morales actually credits Frei’s teammates in front of him, defenders Chad Marshall and Roman Torres, for buying Frei a few extra hundredths of a second to react. Marshall and Torres had played Altidore physically throughout the match and had forced him to play a little farther back than usual. Instead of heading the ball from the eight-yard line, Altidore headed it from the 12.

Torres slid to try and knock the ball away from passer Tosaint Ricketts, which forced him to take the ball all the way to the end line. From there, Ricketts had to loft his cross rather than whip it in with pace in order to get the ball over the head of Marshall, who was in Ricketts’ passing line. Since the ball was crossed to Altidore with less power, it gave Frei another couple hundredths of a second to react.

Next, as Morales explained, Frei’s foot placement was perfect because his feet were already set and ready to push off once Altidore made contact. That bought Frei another few hundredths of a second to reach Altidore’s shot.

“I’ve been struck with Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman of the Seahawks talking about watching film and watching their footwork,” said Morales. “If you don’t have your feet in the right place, you have to take that extra half-step. That costs you time. You have to be anticipatory. You have to be ready to move when it is there. The footwork that Frei had was a key part of him being able to make the play. And it happened before the ball is struck.”

Morales was also impressed with Frei’s arm strength, from his shoulder all the way to his hand and fingertips.

“You see that all the time, even with professional goalies, when the ball is struck hard enough and they get a hand on it but aren’t able to deflect it far enough,” said Morales. “The amount of leverage Frei had on that, that’s why these folks live in the weight room. You have to have that amazing combination of quickness and strength. You can’t have one or the other. That’s just an amazingly athletic little piece of the play.”

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