When Stefan Frei went down after colliding with centerback Shane O’Neill late in Wednesday’s match against the San Jose Earthquakes, the worst was feared. Frei was writhing on the ground in obvious pain and had to be helped off the field, unable to put weight on his left leg.
A day later, Frei was able to share some less dire news.
The next day, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer confirmed that Frei had not torn his ACL, but rather sprained it. Rather than missing 8-9 months, Frei could miss as few as 4-6 weeks, Schmetzer said.
“We’re extremely pleased about that,” he said.
In the meantime, a source suggested that Stefan Cleveland is the most likely of two other first-team goalkeepers to be given a shot to start in Frei’s place. Cleveland, 26, has just five MLS appearances and none since 2018, but served as Frei’s primary backup last season and may simply have a better understanding of how the Sounders want to play.
The other option in goal is Spencer Richey, who was actually on the bench for Wednesday’s game. Richey only joined the Sounders this offseason, but has 29 career MLS starts and was the No. 1 goalkeeper at FC Cincinnati for part of 2019.
Schmetzer insisted the Sounders are confident in both keepers and midfielder Cristian Roldan even suggested this was the best collective group the team has had during his six seasons.
“It’s great to see us have this competition,” Roldan said on Friday. “Stefan Frei is going to be hard to replace but having two backups that compete like they do is extremely important. I look forward to them competing and I think they’ll do extremely well because Tommy [Dutra] prepares them. The competition is what makes this goalkeeper’s union so special.”
The prognosis is not as good for midfielder Jordy Delem, who left the game in the 4th minute with what appeared to be a knee injury. When Delem returned to the Sounders bench, his leg had been immobilized indicating concern that he may have torn a knee ligament.
Schmetzer confirmed that Delem had torn his ACL and will likely be out for the year.