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Stefan Frei moving into elite company among playoff goalkeepers

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Frei only finished third in MLS Goalkeeper of the Year voting, but that hardly seems to matter.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

Since coming to the Seattle Sounders in 2014, Stefan Frei has established himself as one of the steadiest goalkeepers in MLS. Virtually, across the statistical board he’s shown himself to be among the league’s best.

But despite his statistical consistency and propensity for making highlight saves, he’s never gotten the league-wide reputation as anything like a consensus top goalkeeper in the league. Given that, it’s somewhat predictable that he finished third in MLS Goalkeeper of the Year voting when the results were revealed on Thursday. Perhaps more surprising is that this was the best he’s done in that voting, despite his performances over the past four years.

Top MLS goalkeepers 2014-17

Goalkeeper Minutes Shutouts Saves Save % GAA Wins
Goalkeeper Minutes Shutouts Saves Save % GAA Wins
Frei 11744 40 385 0.71 1.22 61
Ousted 11543 38 395 0.7 1.3 51
Robles 12240 36 396 0.68 1.35 61
Hamid 7290 29 377 0.75 1.52 41
Rimando 9508 29 301 0.71 1.15 45
Melia 7259 26 239 0.74 1.01 34
Irwin 7306 23 224 0.66 1.41 22
Johnson 9720 22 319 0.67 1.45 32
Deric 6812 20 232 0.71 1.26 25
Blake 5850 17 220 0.7 1.46 21
Howard 3780 12 138 0.7 1.38 12

Frei is even more impressive when you look at his statistics in the playoffs. Led by Frei, the Sounders are currently riding a 467-minute shutout streak that is seven minutes shy of surpassing the record Kevin Hartman set with the LA Galaxy from 2005-2007. He also ranks sixth all-time in playoff shutouts (seven) and has the fourth best career playoff goals against average (.70). When adjusting for playing time, Frei’s numbers look even better as he has the second best percentage of shutouts (44 percent) and the second best GAA among players with at least 10 postseason starts.

Part of why Frei doesn’t get more plaudits for these types of performances, though, is because he’s quick to give credit to teammates. The praise he shares is well deserved, it should be said, as few teams can boast a center back tandem as good as Chad Marshall and Roman Torres and fewer can claim to have a defensive midfield that can match the triumvirate of Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan and Gustav Svensson.

“It’s an honor for the whole club defensively,” Frei said a couple weeks ago after learning of his nomination for Goalkeeper of the Year. “If we were playing poorly defensively there’s no chance for the goalkeeper to do well. It means we’re doing something right. But the job’s not done and there’s more important trophies to focus on right now and hopefully we can achieve some of that.”

If the only individual award Frei ever ends up winning is MLS Cup MVP, in other words, that seems just fine with him.