Goalkeeper Stefan Frei had been named their Defender of the Year for the 2015 MLS season, the Sounders announced on Wednesday. Aside from a few blips, including the season-ending penalty shootout in Dallas, Frei has been stellar for the Sounders and was well-deserving of the award. It's not a coincidence that Frei also leads Sounder at Heart's Defender of the Year poll with a whopping 64% of votes at the moment.
Frei had 10 shutouts for the Sounders this season, good enough to put him at 4th place in Major League Soccer. His 111 saves show just how many times he pulled through for the Sounders, saving his defenders' blushes on more than one occasion. Out of goalkeepers keepers with at least 20 starts in MLS this season, Frei led the league with a 77.6 save percentage.
Six of Frei's saves were up for MLS Save of the Year, some of which were even pitted against each other on the competition's online bracket. One of those saves is up against Portland's Adam Kwarasey in Round 3 of the SotY tournament, though it should be noted that his only competition up until this round was against himself. Nevertheless, it's an impressive save that could go deeper into the competition.
When asked about his award and what it means to him after the season, Frei was quick to thank his teammates--not just defenders, but the whole squad all the way up to the forwards. He said that the coaching staff really pushes for every player to contribute to the defense, and that it helps when guys like Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey are actively working to get the ball back in the attacking third: "when they’re hustling and working their butt off to deny entry passes, it makes our job a lot easier."
Injuries and other unforeseeable issues hampered the club's progress at times this season, and the defending wasn't always at its absolute best. But the numbers aren't bad; they show a defense that worked extremely hard, overcame sorry circumstances, and luckily had Frei to bail them out on more than a few occasions. The Sounders tied for the fewest goals allowed in the MLS regular season at 36, just a hair above a goal conceded per game. Frei admits he's happy with that stat, but says that he still wants the team to be better next season. "For us to be leading MLS in that stat is really good. Obviously there is always room to improve…But like I said, I was very pleased with our squad defensively this season."
Since joining the Sounders in 2013, Frei has kept goal for 35 wins, the most of any goalkeeper in the league during that time. Frei experienced his first MLS playoff run last season, and admits he wasn't prepared for how it affected his offseason. "It's tricky...I decided last year to maintain my fitness rather than just let it go and work hard to get it back. In retrospect, I should probably have taken a couple weeks off. So I think that's what I'm going to do this year, I'm not really doing anything right now. Just relaxing, letting my body heal. Hopefully I can get all the kinks ironed out before preseason and the CONCACAF game we have looming ahead." Frei has had a nagging shoulder injury at times this season, and hopes to use the first part of his offseason to let it fully heal.