TUKWILA, Wash. – Before the injuries that nearly derailed his career, before maturing and coming of age as a goalkeeper in Seattle, Stefan Frei was supposed to be part of the future for Toronto.
That was the idea when he was drafted by Toronto in 2009 as a skilled collegiate star.
Frei never became a pillar for Toronto. But he has in Seattle, which adds another layer to Saturday’s MLS Cup final. It’s inevitable with player movement that at some point they are likely to face a former team. It becomes amplified when it’s a position as important as Frei’s and a championship is at stake.
“I find myself at a different part of my career,” Frei said this week before the Sounders left for Toronto. “As a goalkeeper as you get older, more experienced maybe the game slows down a little bit for you. At 30 now it’s a lot slower than at 22.
Frei’s career was cut short in Toronto because of injuries that that cost him most of the 2012 season and falling behind others in the lineup the following season. Given a second chance with the Sounders, Frei found a home in Seattle. It’s a place that fits him, from his hobbies off the field as an artist, to the performances he creates standing in net.
He has become one of the league’s better goalkeepers in a city where it’s hard to match the standard Kasey Keller set for the position. Even in the final years of his career, Keller was still regarded as one of, if not the best goalkeeper in the MLS.
This season may have been Frei’s most challenging because of Seattle’s rocky path. He was solid through, even though Seattle was mostly terrible for the first 4 1/2 months before a remarkable turnaround. Frei posted his third straight season with at least 90 saves and had a 1.24 goals against average in playing 33 of 34 regular season games.
He’s been even better in the postseason. Seattle has allowed three goals in five playoff games. He’s posted three shutouts and already made 19 saves in the postseason, and if Seattle is to slow down the offensive attack of Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, it’ll be crucial for Frei to have a big game.
“We are all very appreciative of what he has done for us and how good of a goalkeeper he is,” Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said.
Even though he last appeared in a game for Toronto in 2013, Frei never returned to BMO Field until this past summer when Seattle and Toronto played to a 1-1 draw. It was a far different place than he remembered leaving, in part due to a stadium expansion that changed the sightlines that he came to know.
This will also be a far different environment than the one Frei and the Sounders faced in July. That day the temperature pushed into the upper 70s and the skies were partly cloudy. On Saturday night, the temperature for the scheduled 8 p.m. ET kickoff is expected to be in the upper 20s with a chance of a snow flurry. When the ball hits Frei’s hands, it will sting no matter what he does to try and stay warm.
“I think for the field players it might be easier. They’re constantly moving, or constantly kicking a ball,” Frei said. “For us if you’re in minus weather and you haven’t used your hands and all of a sudden a 90 mph ball is coming your way it can be quite a stinger. You want to just keep moving those things as much as you can. … In the end it’s 90 minutes of just dealing with it and trying to stay as warm as possible and keep moving your toes and your hands.”
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