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Stefan Frei says he’s over LAFC gaffe

The keeper has learned not to dwell on his mistakes.

MLS: Seattle Sounders at Los Angeles FC Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

TUKWILA, Wash. — Goalkeepers get judged on just about every observable characteristic and measurable statistic. Some get told they’re too lanky, many are told that they’re too short. Others that they’re too slow. While the physical observations about goalkeepers are readily made, the toughest aspect of a keeper to judge is the one that can be the most difficult to know: his mental fortitude.

Legendary hockey goalie Jacques Plante once put it another way: “Goalkeeper is a normal job? Sure! How you would you like it if at your job, every time you made the slightest mistake a little red light on over your head and 18,000 people stood up and screamed at you?”

Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei had one such slip-up in the final seconds of Seattle’s match against LAFC on Sunday, but to hear him tell it, he’s made his peace with the error that saw Laurent Ciman’s free kick deflect off his hands and into the net.

“As a goalkeeper, that’s the position,” Frei said Thursday. “It wasn’t my first mistake and it won’t be my last one. We all make mistakes, but this position, it gets amplified. It’s a brutal thing because you’re really letting down all the hard work your team has put in. I think what makes goalkeepers good is how do you respond from something like that. Everyone will go through something like that.

“It can destroy you, but I’ve had my fair number of blunders and I’ve come out the other way. It always helps when you have teammates and coaches; people that believe in you and assure you and always have your back. For me, the combination of having that and coming out here and training hard, it helps that process of going through it and making sure that you’re ready for the next game.”

Still, the LAFC loss was such a shock to those who follow the Sounders primarily because Frei is ordinarily such a sure-handed keeper. Frei kept a league-best 13 clean sheets in 33 starts last season and will be long-remembered for his extra-time denial of Jozy Altidore in the 2016 MLS Cup.

Given Frei’s resume, it’s probably unsurprising that head coach Brian Schmetzer says the team’s confidence is unshaken.

“Stef is someone who all of those guys on that field appreciate what he does and what he has done for the club,” Schmetzer said Wednesday. “For it to happen to Stef the way it did after all the effort we put in the game it was hard. But it’s a nice day, we’re back on the field, we’re going to push past it.”

Frei’s saves may be impressive, but those close to him know it is the keeper’s mental toughness and ability to not dwell on his errors that enable him to be one of the league’s most effective goalkeepers.

Frei and the defense are still searching for the first clean sheet of 2018, but the club’s confidence is high, even with the news that Roman Torres will miss several weeks with a hamstring injury.

Team captain Osvaldo Alonso was characteristically straightforward when asked what Frei meant to the club.

“He means a lot,” Alonso said Thursday. “Those things happen. I don’t blame him. If you make a mistake [during the season], then a save in the final, I don’t care. I’m very happy with Stef. He made a mistake, but it’s OK. The team is happy with him. We’re always confident in him. We don’t say anything to him. He’s saved us a lot in past years. He’s a great goalkeeper, he’s saved the team a lot. Nothing to say.”

His confidence iron-clad, Frei will step between the posts at CenturyLink Field Saturday to face the Columbus Crew, but he won’t be worried. His confidence, bolstered by his coaches and teammates, is unshakable.