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Stefan Frei’s constant desire for improvement drives his Goalkeeper of Year candidacy

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Goalkeeper is also quick to credit the play of his teammates for honor of being award finalist.

MLS: Seattle Sounders at Houston Dynamo Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

TUKWILA, Wash. — The theme of improvement has pushed the Seattle Sounders to unlikely comebacks for the past three seasons, propelling them past slow starts to a pair of MLS Cup Finals. The same theme has pushed three players: Chad Marshall, Stefan Frei and Osvaldo Alonso, onto the shortlist for MLS’ player of the year awards.

“I told them today at film, I said ‘yeah, these guys are being considered — Frei, Chad and Ozzie — but they can’t do it without the rest of you guys,’” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said Wednesday. “Stef can’t do it without the back four. Chad can’t do it without Kim Kee-hee or Roman. Roman, as a reminder, was the Latino del Año the last two years running. Ozzie can’t do it without Gustav and Cristian. It’s team awards in some sense. We’re very proud that [they’re] up for the final award. We put the nominations out there and it’s an honor that they got selected to be the finalists.”

True to Schmetzer’s mindset, Frei had plenty of praise for his two fellow finalists.

“I mean, for Ozzie I’m so happy that he’s been healthy this year,” Frei said of the club’s captain, nominated for Comeback Player of the Year. “He’s been one of the best defensive midfielders in this league for a long time. He’s still got it. Everyone knows it. When he’s not on the pitch it’s difficult. We need him on the pitch. We need that leadership and skill on the pitch, not the sideline. For him to stay healthy and be able to showcase that again? I couldn’t be happier for him. It’s tremendous. Obviously, he’s a pest. I don’t think anybody wants to play against him. Very difficult, very ambitious. He likes challenges and he usually wins. I think that’s why it’s been a good year for him.

“Chad is Chad. Always consistent. That’s the main thing with goalkeepers and defenders. If you don’t watch 90-minute games and you only watch highlights, you don’t really see them that much, unless they’re having an absolute blinder. As a goalkeeper, you don’t want to be doing that. As a defender, you shouldn’t be asked to be in three goal highlights. Your job is to defend and be consistent. If you’ve watched our 90-minute games, you’ve seen that that’s what Chad brings. He sees the game extremely well. He’s obviously a big presence. He’s good with his feet, can distribute very well for a big guy, and he’s an attacking threat up top as well. He’s been the whole package for such a long time, I firmly believe they will name Defender of the Year for Chad Marshall someday. Some people who only see the highlights, they’ll say ‘I don’t see Chad Marshall.’ Watch a whole game, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.”

Frei’s numbers are also impressive. His 1.03 goals against average is the third-lowest in MLS and he finished among the league leaders in saves.

For Frei, though, the main goal of every season has been steady improvement, something that helped convert the raw talent that turned up from Toronto in 2014 into an MLS Cup MVP, due in part to the guidance of Sounders goalkeeper coach Tommy Dutra.

This year, Frei says the goalkeepers mostly focused on improving distribution out of the back and playing with their feet. The aim for constant improvement, however, has been the driving force that led him to be a Goalkeeper of the Year finalist for the second straight season.

“The sky needs to be the limit,” Frei said. “There can’t be any complacency or happiness with where you’re at. Happiness, OK, there’s moments where you say ‘I’ve done well with this and that and that was an accumulation of our hard work with a good save or good distribution.’ You want to see your work transform into something, but you should never be satisfied. Never be complacent. That won’t end when I retire from sports. I think that needs to go on for the rest of your life. You need to better yourself. For us it’s easy to say ‘better yourself on the pitch,’ but as a human being I think you need to have that attitude at all times.”