It’s a position that has a million different opinions around it. Goalkeepers can be the heroes or the scapegoats. They can be the players that save a game – no pun intended – or the players that avoid eye-contact with their teammates as they rush off the pitch.
Stefan Frei found his sweet spot in Seattle, almost immediately after arriving to the club in 2014. He’s been the no. 1 ever since, leading Seattle – from the net – to two MLS Cup titles and countless playoff appearances.
He and his teammates made history on Wednesday night against Pumas of Liga MX, becoming the first Major League Soccer team to win the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League. Seattle won on an aggregate score of 5-2, blanking Pumas at Lumen Field.
Frei stood on his head throughout the tournament, but his most impressive performance came in Leg 1 of the championship match, held in Mexico. Frei also put on a clinic in both legs of the semifinal against New York City FC.
In Leg 1 against Pumas, Frei made four big saves, denying Pumas from the chance to win and have a goal advantage over the Sounders. That match finished 2-2, with the Sounders finding two late goals to tie it up.
In the second leg, the goalkeeping stalwart technically only made one save, but he had to leap and twist himself to make sure Pumas didn't get any goals in his net. In the 65th minute, Frei made an acrobatic save against Diogo.
Frei was not only named the best goalkeeper of the tournament for his outstanding performances, but was also named the Most Valuable Player of the entire tournament. So much focus in soccer is given to those who score the great goals, the bicycle kicks and the flashier players. However, Frei's award shows that he's not just a great goalkeeper, but a player that the Seattle Sounders truly rely on. Although the Sounders have a strong backup in Stefan Cleveland, he's no Frei.
After the match, Frei, visibly emotional, said that being the first team to win CCL was special.
It feels amazing. I said to the guys before, 'The first thing only happens once.' Making history... there will be more Concacaf Champions Leagues winners, but there's only one that does it for the first time for MLS," Frei said on Fox Sports 1 post-game. "We wrote ourselves in the history books today... It means everything. It's a Wednesday, and we're packing it with 68,000-something people."
It's time for Gregg Berhalter, head coach of the U.S. men's national team, to take notice of Frei. The goalkeeper obtained his American citizenship in June 2017 and was given a consideration by Bruce Arena in January 2017, but was not called up for any other camps by him, former interim coach Dave Sarachan and then Berhalter.
Performance at the national team level is crucial, and a big part of it comes from the club performance. Consistency is key, especially in the goalkeeping position. Not only does Frei get consistent starts — he's the clear-cut No. 1 in Seattle and has no signs of slowing down — but he has consistently good performances.
The U.S. goalkeeper pool changes, but for the last few windows it has been between Matt Turner and Zack Steffen, with Ethan Horvath thrown into the mix as well. All three are quality goalkeepers — and Horvath is often overlooked despite strong club performances with Nottingham Forest — but Steffen has struggled for club and country in recent weeks. Turner is just returning from a knee injury and will be heading to Arsenal this summer... and who knows where his destination will be from there, should he go on loan.
Frei isn't the youngest goalkeeper — he just turned 36 on April 20 — but he has all the qualities a good, solid goalkeeper needs. He is good with his feet and his saves are acrobatic and impressive, given his age. Last year, Frei spent some time on the sidelines due to injury and health concerns. After shaking off the rust, Frei jumped in and helped lead Seattle to the postseason.
Don't let his age fool you. Frei is one of the best — if not the best — goalkeeper in MLS right now. His performance in the CONCACAF Champions League itself warrants a call up and consideration from Berhalter and his team. And, should he play his cards right, it shouldn't be a far-off thought to get Frei on the plane to Qatar this fall.