TUKWILA — A day after flying with his teammates on a charter flight to Nashville, Stefan Frei got some rather unfortunate news. He had tested positive for Covid-19.
Not only would he be forced to miss the Sounders’ next two games, but he was stuck on the opposite side of the country. While there are no legal restrictions against boarding a domestic flight after testing positive, neither Frei nor the team even gave it any consideration.
“It would have been extremely selfish,” Frei said about the possibility of flying.
That left Frei with two options: He could either quarantine in his hotel room and fly home after getting two negative tests or drive back to Seattle by himself and finish his recovery in Seattle.
Neither was particularly appealing. Not only would staying at his hotel be pretty boring, but he could end up stuck there for an indefinite period if he continued to test positive. The drive back to Seattle, on the other hand, was nearly 2,500 miles and would take at least three days.
Frei opted to drive.
“I like to be proactive,” he told reporters on Friday. “I needed to get home so that I can be assured that when I get a negative I can be on the field and training to get ready for the next game.”
The choice paid off. In addition to saying he found the experience mostly positive, Frei was cleared to resume team activities shortly after getting back to Seattle, has been able to train all week and is expected to start Saturday’s virtual must-win home match against the Colorado Rapids.
That doesn’t mean the journey was stress free. The night after testing positive, Frei said he was hit with “one of the worst fevers I’ve ever had in my life.” But that broke by the next day and he was feeling good enough to embark on his first-ever cross-country road trip which he decided to break into three 12-hour days of driving.
“The first day I was grooving to 80s music loudly, lots of energy, cut through Missouri to Omaha,” Frei recalled. “Then, I think became an introvert, turned off the radio and just enjoyed nature.”
His journey also took him through South Dakota, Montana and the Idaho panhandle before entering Washington via Spokane and traversing the final stretch of I-90. To help him along the way, Frei’s wife called ahead to book him hotels.
The main point of stress on the trip proved to be the “check oil” light that never turned off on the Toyota 4Runner he rented.
Always one to make the most of his situation, Frei said he found the experience to be positive. Not only did he have plenty of time to think about his art and come up with some ideas he wasn’t ready to share until he trademarked them, but he also found it valuable to interact with people outside his normal bubble.
“It was good, especially in today’s political climate when we think of everything as black and white and you’re either red or you're blue,” Frei said. “It’s nice to see how different people live in different places and we’re so much more than ‘are you with me or against me?’ It’s a sad thing in this country that we’re very polar.
“To drive through some places — as much as I tried to stay away from people — to see they’re friendly in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho it was good for the soul.”
One element that didn’t quite live up to his expectations was the food.
“At first, I was a little excited to do McDonald’s for a couple of days,” Frei said. “But after the first one I was so disgusted with myself I was just craving a caprese and a chicken breast.”
Perhaps the worst part of the experience for Frei was knowing that he couldn’t do anything to help his team, even if it’s unlikely he could have done much to sway the two 1-0 losses the Sounders suffered.
“We haven’t scored in a while,” Frei said. “People are trying to make things happen. It’s difficult. I appreciate the effort. The worst is when people shut down and don’t put in the effort that’s the real issue. I didn’t see that. But it’s part of every season.
“Every team goes through spells. Everyone knows they are coming and you try to avoid it like a pest but it just happens and it sucks. You’re trying hard and it’s not clicking. But these are also the moments you grow, you find confidence in each other, you fought through a tough stretch and that will help you in the end.”