Coming off a breakout season and heading into free agency, Stefan Cleveland looked well positioned to move somewhere he’d have a chance to be a regular starter. But after surveying the scene, the 27-year-old has apparently decided he’s already in a pretty good position. On Wednesday, he officially re-signed with the Sounders, agreeing to a two-year guaranteed contract that includes an option for 2024.
“Stefan stepped up and provided us with a great presence in goal last season,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said in a team release. “Having him back with Tom Dutra and the rest of our goalkeeping unit gives us great security at an important position on the field.”
Of all the Sounders’ returning players, Cleveland is probably biggest surprise. After starting a career-high 15 games in which he went 6-4-5 with a 1.13 goals-against average, it seemed like a foregone conclusion someone would dangle a starting spot for him.
Instead, Cleveland determined that he was better off playing understudy to Stefan Frei and continuing to learn with goalkeeping coach Dutra.
“I tested out free agency, I saw what was out there and I decided Seattle was what was best for me, for my development, for my future, for now... all of it,” Cleveland told the media on Wednesday. “The big thing is I know what this club has to offer. I know it’s always going to be competitive and that’s the environment I want to be in as a player.”
Cleveland said a big part of that decision wasn’t just how good the team is, but the entire goalkeeping unit that includes Frei, Dutra and likely No. 3 goalkeeper Andrew Thomas.
“It’s a strong group, we’re all pushing each other,” he said. “I’ve been in other situations where I’ve had goalkeeper coaches where I didn’t connect the way Tommy does. Tommy, Stef, Andrew and I are all technically oriented and paying attention to details. I think that’s a big thing for me.
“I don’t know if I’ll be here my whole career, but I know that as long as I’m here with Tommy I’m going to learn and improve.”