Throughout Sounders FC’s historic nine-game winning streak in MLS play, much has been made of the team’s impenetrable defense – and rightfully so. In those nine games, the team has conceded just five times, including four clean sheets. Beyond the win streak, the team hasn’t conceded multiple goals in a game since June.
At the heart of Seattle’s stalwart defending is goalkeeper Stefan Frei. Even when the team was struggling for results earlier in the season, the Sounders shot-stopper consistently delivered man of the match performances, giving his side a chance to collect points every time they stepped on the pitch.
Poring over the data from the season, the evidence that Frei has been the best goalkeeper in the league is incontrovertible. He leads the league in goals-against average (0.96) and save percentage (78.3%). Of the teams that currently sit in the playoff positions for both conferences, he has the third-highest number of saves (94), trailing only Andre Blake (101) and his former protégé, Tyler Miller (101).
According to American Soccer Analysis, Frei leads MLS goalkeepers in goals against – expected goals against with a figure of -11.55, meaning that, over the course of the season, he’s denied 12 goals that should typically be scored based on the quality of the opportunity. The next best shot-stopper on the list is Montreal’s Evan Bush, who registered a GA – xGA of -7.42. Last year’s MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, Sporting Kansas City stalwart Tim Melia, finished the 2017 season at -13.31.
Was it counted in the box score after the Video Review for our penalty? No.— Sounders Matchday (@LIVESounders) August 5, 2018
But was it still one of the most clutch, insane, "put-the-team-on-my-back" saves I've ever seen? Absolutely. pic.twitter.com/qETU5MiRnC
If not for Frei’s heroics in goal, Seattle wouldn’t be comfortably in the playoff positions. His sprawling recovery save on a Shkelzen Gashi sitter turned a demoralizing road draw against the Colorado Rapids into the catalyst for the a 12-match unbeaten streak. Though it didn’t show up on the box score, his nearly identical stop on Darwin Quintero in the 89th minute against Minnesota has to be considered one of the greatest goalkeeping feats in league history.
While his superhuman saves will grab most of the headlines, it’s his consistency and technical quality that truly set him apart. Goalkeeping is incredibly nuanced and, at times, convoluted. That Frei’s positioning, distribution, handling and footwork are never called into question is a testament to his relentless work on the training pitch.
Regardless of whether the Sounders make a third consecutive trip to MLS Cup, Frei has put himself into prime position to be considered for 2018 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year.