Chances are, most of the players who participated in Sunday’s dreadful 0-0 tie between the Seattle Sounders and San Jose Earthquakes will have forgotten about this game in short order. It wasn’t just that the game was scoreless, it was that neither team really even sustained any sort of pressure. The two teams combined for just 15 shots, collectively generated just .8 xG, and each goalkeeper was only forced into one save.
The details will surely fade for Stefan Frei, as well, but the game will likely retain a special place in the goalkeeper’s heart. The match against the Earthquakes marked the 250th time that Frei has played for the Sounders in a competitive match. Frei has now registered a shutout in 71 of those matches.
“These are nice milestones,” Frei said. “I do take some pride in it. Sometimes people out there develop a narrative and say you’re injury prone, and I took some offense to that. I’m going to try to keep this going as long as possible.”
It’s worth remembering that when Frei first came to the Sounders in 2014 his career was very much at a crossroads. His MLS career had started out promising enough, contending for Rookie of the Year in 2009 and establishing himself as a rare bright spot on a generally bad Toronto FC team over his first three seasons. But a pair of injuries effectively wiped out his next two seasons, creating the “injury-prone” narrative and allowing the Sounders to pick him up for a conditional first-round draft pick.
Frei was stepping into big shoes, too. In each of the five previous seasons, Sounders goalkeepers had been considered among the best in the league. Kasey Keller was the goalkeeper for the first three, winning Goalkeeper of the Year in 2011, and was succeeded by Michael Gspurning, who posted one of the best statistical seasons ever in 2012. Frei was also competing with legitimate legend Marcus Hahnemann.
That first season in Seattle had some obvious bumps — the 50 goals he allowed remain, by far, the most goals a Sounders goalkeeper has ever conceded — but Frei was allowed to work through the challenges. Goalkeeping coach Tommy Dutra and head coach Sigi Schmid never allowed their public confidence waver, despite Hahnemann waiting in the wings. In the end, Frei helped lead the Sounders to their first-ever piece of MLS silverware — they won the Supporters’ Shield — and he set a still standing franchise record with 20 league wins.
What started as a season in which Frei’s confidence was probably at a low finished with him believing in himself again, setting him on a path that has already cemented his status bonafide club legend with no end in sight.
Tempting as it is to think of Frei as a grizzled veteran, it would not be at all surprising if he were to maintain this level for at least another five years. By the time he’s done, there’s a good chance he’ll be second behind Nick Rimando on virtually every meaningful career stat for MLS goalkeepers. As it is, he’s already fifth in appearances, fourth in wins, fifth in shutouts and eighth in saves on the all-time list.
His place in the Sounders’ record book will likely never be eclipsed. As it is, his 250 all-competition appearances is seven more than all 15 other goalkeepers to ever suit up for the Sounders in the MLS era. In other words, he’s already started more than half of the franchise’s competitive matches. His 118 wins are 37 more than all those goalkeepers combined and his 71 shutouts are 14 more than those others. He’s also one of only seven goalkeepers to have made at least 200 regular-season appearances for one team and Pat Onstad is the only goalkeeper with more than Frei’s two MLS Cups.
“He’s going to keep going,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said about his 34-year-old goalkeeper. “He feels it. I’ll tell you, Tommy works those guys harder than any other goalkeeping group in the league. Why not keep him around and let him create a few more shutouts?”