Before we begin, you may be wondering why Frei shows up at #6 when I clearly had Marshall there. This was my error — I originally graded Stef’s postseason on only the final. That was good for him since you’ll recall he earned his second successive perfect 10 grade in an MLS Cup Final. After I caught the error, Frei moved down to end the year at #6 on the ratings scale.
#6 Stefan Frei – 6.54 | Community – 6.62
Stef led the league in shutouts with 13 during the season, and he added three more in the playoffs. He was consistently very good for the first half (6.31 pre-Leerdam), then consistently great for rest of the regular and post season (6.83 after Leerdam).
There were a few below average ratings, but Frei’s low on the season was a 5.
A snippet of the bad:
A massive error against New England on April 29 let in a goal during a 3-3 draw at home:
“Keepers are taught at a young age to put their knee down to block low shots and keep your body in front, but Frei was lazy and used only his hands. Now we all know he took full responsibility for it, and that is why we love the guy, but this was a huge gaffe. Maybe it’s lack of concentration or something else, but he had a similar play against SKC in the opener last year, and just as he gets accolades when he makes incredible saves, he gets dinged for major blunders.”
Frei seems to have one of these each year, and a speculative long shot beat him to completely change the tone of the match: #goalschangegames. This put a ton of pressure on the Sounders, who did manage to rescue a tie, but shouldn’t have needed to do so.
Frei failed to adjust to Sporting Kansas City’s high press and nearly paid against a second choice SKC team in a game that Seattle won 1-0 on Aug 12:
“The big issue with Frei in this match was his decision making when dealing with the press. Few teams can press like SKC, but it was a very big problem for the Seattle defense that did not adequately adjust to the pressure. In the 2nd minute it was clear that the home team was going to play short, and the obstinacy in not changing tactics sooner was a huge problem. Frei made a bad touch in the 5th to again put himself under undue pressure, and he forced a ball to Torres in a terrible spot. Another bad touch 20 minutes later handcuffed the keeper, forcing a left-footed desperation clear out of bounds with a player bearing down on him. Attempting a soft pass through the middle to Svensson with a player all over him was insanity, and only a desperate sliding pass from the Swedish midfielder in the 33rd prevented the ball being rammed right down Frei’s throat.”
As Frei improves we see less and less of this poor decision making, but he still had a few games like that where he tried to force passes that weren’t there. Reducing the head-scratching moments will go a long way toward cementing his claim as the best keeper in our MLS history.
A snippet of the good:
Frei showed how he can combine all facets of quality keeping on September 27:
“On the positive end Stefan played Leerdam quickly in the 16th to start a push and came out to catch a cross in the 21st. A minute later Frei made the smart decision to come out of his box and head an over the top through ball wide. With Seattle holding onto a lead but under pressure, Frei made a spectacular diving save on a magnificent Fredy Montero free kick. Similar to THE SAVE, Frei somehow hurtled to his left to get a hand on this goal-bound shot, pushed it into the crossbar and out and neatly corralled the ball after the initial save. This was a fantastic and hugely influential play in a game that was still contested.”
Frei has really improved his distribution; each game you will see great decisions after gaining possession. He also is stronger than ever coming out and winning balls in traffic, and oh yeah, he has the magnificent save in his repertoire as well.
Frei nearly carried the entire team on his back in MLS Cup Final:
“While his teammates were still asleep, Frei was playing soccer, and playing pretty damn well. Asked to stand on his head in goal and parry shot after shot, Stef did so, holding down the fort with a spectacular exhibition of big game goaltending. He ended the game with two goals against, but he prevented 19/20 shots from scoring in the first 93 minutes and gave Seattle every possible chance to stay in the game. Frei was clearly up for a match of this magnitude … This was the best half of goalkeeping I saw in this league all year, and it wasn’t particularly close … While Toronto dominated this game and deserved to win, Frei was vastly better than last season’s finale, and he nearly dragged his team to another title on his will alone.”
Stefan is the ultimate big game performer, raising his grade over a full ratings point in the post season, and turning in back to back 10s in the biggest match of the year. Stef was magnificent, showing up time and time again to prevent Toronto from scoring, and frantically attempting to buy his team some time to wake up and play better.
Stefan Frei should start every game and get a few more than his 37 appearances in 2017 in the upcoming season. With Tyler Miller leaving, there is a bit of a void behind Frei, but he shows remarkable durability and increased ability every year, with no sign of slowing down. With a solid defense in front of him, expect Frei to again put up great numbers.