If there's one thing the Seattle Sounders don't have to worry about, it's the goalkeeper position.
Seattle has two goalkeepers with the same name and then a third-string goalkeeper named Andrew Thomas. However, the two men splitting time between the sticks are the "Stefans"; Stefan Frei and Stefan Cleveland.
There's no argument in the Sounders camp that Frei is the undisputed starter. Ever since his arrival in 2014, Frei has been the main man in net for the Sounders. Back on June 25, against Sporting Kansas City, Frei celebrated his 300th appearance in all competitions for the Sounders. He is only the third player in club history to reach that historic mark, as Osvaldo Alonso holds the highest tally with 339. Frei could very well break that record as soon as 2023.
Zach Scott technically holds the highest tally with 352 appearances, including some before Seattle became an MLS club in 2009.
However, Frei isn't the only goalkeeper getting time for the Sounders. Back in 2020, the Sounders signed Stefan Cleveland after he spent time with the Chicago Fire and on loan with USL Championship sides Tulsa Roughnecks and Lansing Ignite FC.
Now, in his third season with the Sounders, Cleveland isn't just a training partner for Frei. He's getting quality minutes in a rotation. Last year, Cleveland was thrown into the mix after Frei sustained a leg injury. Cleveland took over, making 15 starts and appearances for the Sounders in 2021. He made 29 saves and had a pass accuracy of 70.2%.
This year, both goalkeepers are healthy, but the rotation continues. This isn't due to bad performance on either Stefan's part, but due to the long, winding MLS season.
After Seattle defeated rival Toronto FC on the road on July 2 — a game where Cleveland earned the start and a clean sheet in the 2-0 victory — Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer praised his goalkeeping unit.
"Stefan Cleveland has come in and has done a good job," Schmetzer said post-game. "He can be a starter on many MLS teams. Stefan Frei, we know his abilities. So it's handy to have them both.
"We can give Stefan Frei some time off, it will help him, and certainly it's a testament to Stefan Cleveland, Andrew Thomas, coach Tommy Dutra... the whole goalkeeper core. We're blessed and deep in that position. Certainly the coaching staff has a ton of confidence in all of them."
Cleveland has played in five matches this year and was in the Sounders' matchday squads when the team competed in the Concacaf Champions League.
After the match against Toronto, Cleveland said that Seattle has a strong club identity and trains with players across the board to get ready.
"We don’t really train first team versus second team until the day before the game," Cleveland explained. "You’re always working with everyone, whether it’s small-sided or possession, so you’re building relationships on the field and off the field in the locker room. The culture here, everyone knows everyone. Through the week when we're training together is when these performances are earned. They don’t come from nothing. We prepare for them through the week. I feel comfortable playing with anyone on the roster and anyone on Tacoma’s roster.”
Cleveland has made a few appearances for the Tacoma Defiance team, which features in the USL Championship. This year he made one appearance, and he made two for the side in 2020.
Despite being two teams, they are under the same umbrella. Even the Seattle Sounders Academy has a foot in the door with training with the USL and MLS sides.
“That is something the club does very well," Cleveland said. "The coaches take a lot of time and make sure guys get minutes and have a rhythm, whether it’s guys going down to Tacoma or bringing those guys up here. Everybody feels part of the club. There is a very ingrained culture around the first team, Tacoma and the Academy. We know the names of Academy players. We know the name of Tacoma guys.
"Whenever we need someone to step on the field, they’re comfortable. They’re not like, ‘Oh God, who are these guys around me?’ There’s banter from everyone. It’s the culture that the club has created and it takes a lot of time, but I think they’ve done a very good job at that.”
Cleveland most recently appeared for Seattle in their 1-0 road loss to Nashville SC on Wednesday. With the mixture of midweek and weekend MLS matches, doubled with Seattle's heavy legs from the Concacaf Champions League run, don't be surprised to see more of Cleveland in goal this season.