The Seattle Sounders head into their Week 8 clash against LAFC within touching distance of their opponents, who sit atop the Western Conference standings. Sunday’s six-pointer would have a different aura surrounding the match had Seattle not handed Toronto FC its first defeat of the campaign last weekend.
While Will Bruin’s brace and Cristian Roldan’s venomous winner have gotten most of the headlines, the Rave Green might have settled for a deflating draw if not for the late-game heroics of goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
With only a minute remaining in second-half stoppage time, TFC’s new signing, Alejandro Pozuelo, carved out a glorious chance to steal a point on the road. Utilizing a slight feint and an electric burst of pace, he glided inside and unleashed curled effort that seemed destined for the bottom corner.
But as he’s done throughout his tenure with Seattle, especially against Toronto, Frei supplied a moment of individual brilliance, putting the team on his back as he pulled off a world-class save. TFC must be sick of facing Seattle’s No. 24.
It was the type of save that every young goalkeeper should watch, as it was only possible because of Frei’s excellent positioning, footwork and diving technique.
As Pozuelo receives the ball in the left channel, Frei’s positioning is perfect. He stations himself closer to his near post, denying a driven shot, but also about a yard off his line, in case he needs to rush out and claim a cross.
When Pozuelo drives into the box, the Seattle shot-stopper remains incredibly disciplined with his positioning. It would have been easy, even tempting, to match the Spaniard stride-for-stride, shifting laterally as TFC’s No. 10 cut further inside. But Frei’s decision to get set in that exact location is validated by the swarth of players in front of him.
He correctly identifies two possible shooting lanes, which are either side of Kelvin Leerdam. He’s positioned perfectly, as he has a clear view of the shooter and a good enough angle to make a save at the near or far post.
Notice Frei’s balance in this photo. The most common reason that goalkeepers are beaten by shots is they don’t set their feet in time. When a shooter’s leg goes back to strike the ball, you absolutely have to get your feet set.
Setting early accomplishes two key objectives: getting balanced and putting yourself in a position to make an explosive dive to either side.
Because Frei gets set in anticipation of the shot, he’s able to take two lateral, shuffle steps before diving, which provided the necessary momentum as he prepared to take flight.
The area where Frei has improved the most under the tutelage of Sounders FC Director of Goalkeeping Tommy Dutra is consistently generating an explosive drive step.
In goalkeeping parlance, the drive step is the final preparation step before takeoff, as you shift your momentum to your lead leg, which should be forward on an angle, and push off, taking flight and attacking the ball with enough momentum to alter the shot’s trajectory.
A lot of goalkeepers lead with their hands when they dive, a common mistake that often makes the marginal difference between a goal and a save.
Frei, meanwhile, often drops his lead hand behind his knee and then shoots it out as he dives, propelling himself even further as he arches his back mid-air. It allows him to utilize every inch of his body and, in this instance, produce a stunning save that secured three points.
As you can see in the clip above, Frei makes hardly any contact with the ball. But goalkeeping is all about maximizing the marginal efficiencies of technique.
If Frei had been an inch to his left, got his feet set a split-second too late or took a slightly larger drive step, he never would’ve made the save. Yes, Cristian Roldan did an excellent job of staying on the back post to try and clear the ball off the line. But as you can see, there are five TFC players in the immediate vicinity waiting to pounce on any rebound.
Put simply, Frei’s dedication to the nuanced minutia of his craft is the reason the Sounders held on for three massive points at home.