When the Seattle Sounders defeated D.C. United 2-1 on Saturday night at CenturyLink Field, they were able to secure all three points in large part due to the heroics of goalkeeper Stefan Frei. With D.C. throwing numbers forward in search of an equalizer, the Seattle shot-stopper produced a stunning save in the 89th minute on Luciano Acosta’s venomous, swerving effort from the edge of the area.
Since signing with the club prior to the 2014 season, Frei has developed into one of the most technically-sound goalkeepers in North America. But a goalkeeper is only as good as the team in front of him, making defensive shape and organization absolutely critical. Frei is talented enough that, if the players in front of him put shooters under pressure or shepherd them into poor angles, he’ll make the save every time.
That was on full display when he denied Acosta’s would-be equalizer.
When D.C.’s diminutive playmaker received the ball from the throw-in, Sounders midfielder Nicolás Lodeiro immediately adjusted his hips, showing Acosta to the outside. Osvaldo Alonso reads this defensive cue brilliantly, as he slid two steps laterally to deny an entry pass to the feet of Paul Arriola, which forced Acosta to drift even further wide in search of space.
As you can see in the picture above, by the time D.C.’s No. 10 actually takes his shot, he’s already stationed at the right-side edge of the box. For experienced goalkeepers, shot-stopping essentially becomes pattern recognition. With Alonso closing down Acosta, the Argentine’s only option is to drive the ball toward the back post, which telegraphed exactly where he would place his shot. Notice how his plant foot is pointing toward Frei’s back-post, his hips are closed, and his shooting knee is pointed down -- all telltale signs of a shooter driving his effort across the face of goal.
Now, let’s examine some of the technical elements that contributed to Frei’s acrobatic intervention.
When facing a powerful shot, it’s important for goalkeepers to drive through the ball, meaning they attack the ball with a forward trajectory and plenty of inertia. In order to do so, they must get their feet set and execute their take-off step to perfection.
As you can see in the image above, Frei is positioned perfectly, his shoulders are squared to the shooter, and his dive step is forward on a 45-degree angle, all of which enabled him to drive through the ball with enough of momentum to drastically alter the flight of the ball.
When facing a high shot that arrows toward the side netting, it’s important for the goalkeeper to gauge the initial trajectory of the ball. Despite the wicked movement on the shot, Frei did this brilliantly, as he recognized the shot was destined for the top-right corner. Moreover, he correctly decides to hurl himself toward the ball first, and adjust to its flight later.
Once he’s airborne, he exhibits excellent body control to parry away the shot. In the clip above, notice how he rotates his top shoulder at the very last millisecond. This allowed him to guide the shot to safety wide of the goal-mouth. Had he gone for a more traditional top-hand save, extending his left-hand straight up in the air, there’s a chance the shot would’ve crashed back off the crossbar or rebounded to the feet of a D.C. player for an easy tap-in.
It’s a good thing Stef hit the stop, drop, and roll after the save, because he was absolutely on fire against D.C. United.