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Unforgettable save seals Frei’s place in Sounders’ history

Photo by Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports

TORONTO — “Legendary.” It’s such a big word despite being just nine letters long. It’s hard to truly define what constitutes the description, but it becomes impossible to forget once one earns the distinction. It’s a word that carries a lot of weight, even if it is one thrown around all too often in the sports world.

As Stefan Frei soared through the air under the bright lights of BMO Field, he certainly wasn’t thinking about the word or its ramifications. Once Jozy Altidore struck a lofting, looping shot with his head, the ball floated through the brisk Toronto air for a seemingly endless moment. The home crowd was hushed, ready to explode after 10 years and 108 minutes of waiting. The Sounders fans that had made the cross-country trip watched with bated breath. Frei’s teammates? Praying, hoping, begging for a miracle as the ball drifted further and further behind their goalkeeper.

Frei’s left hand flew up, and his fingertips grazed a shot destined for goal. He kept it out, creating a moment that will live on forever in Sounders’ lore. Roughly 30 minutes later, Frei was lifting a trophy high above his head, joining his teammates in celebrating what truly was a shocking MLS Cup victory.

Nicolas Lodeiro called Frei “incredible.” Brian Schmetzer said the Swiss goalkeeper was “tremendous.” But it was Brad Evans’ description of Frei’s efforts that was most poignant.


“Well done by Jozy trying to go against from the side I’m coming from,” Frei said, looking back at what proved to be the moment of the 2016 MLS Cup. “Obviously it’s probably exactly how he wanted to hit that one. Sometimes as a goalkeeper you feel like you’re not going to get to the ball but you never know until you try. I try to keep my feet moving and give it my best shot. Luckily I was able to get there.

“Usually something will have broken down for you to do that. Sometimes you just throw technique out the window and try to make a save.”

For Frei, Saturday was about so much more than what may be remembered as The Save. It was the culmination of a long ride, one that began on the very same field that saw him provide the biggest stop of his career.

Originally drafted by Toronto FC in the first round of the 2009 MLS Draft, it was almost fitting that Frei proved the only thing in the way of a fairy-tale TFC win on a frigid Toronto night. After three solid years as the TFC starter, his career was derailed by injuries in 2012. A broken leg, torn ligaments, training ground injuries. His starting role? Gone. His career? In need of something fresh.

That fresh start came in Seattle, as Frei was traded to the Sounders for a conditional draft pick in the aftermath of the 2013 season. It was a low-risk, high-reward move for the Sounders. A potential starter, a potential centerpiece. The pick eventually became part of a series of trades, including one for current FC Dallas boss Oscar Pareja. The goalkeeper the Sounders received in return? A champion.

“For one, there is simple belief in me to give me a chance in Seattle,” Frei said. “At that point, I had been on the bench or rehabbing for two years. So for them to take a chance, and then go through growing pains, but keep on reassuring me that you’re the man. We got your back. We believe in you. It allowed my confidence to come back.”

“I couldn’t be happier for him,” Schmetzer added. “Whenever a player leaves a club, it’s either good or bad. I’m not so sure if Stef ended this relationship on a bad note. He certainly talks very highly of the Toronto organization, but maybe it was just time for him to have a fresh start. That’s just the way it is sometimes in pro sports. Certainly I’m very proud of him.

There was plenty to be proud of. On a day where the Sounders failed to muster a single shot on target, Frei got his hands on seven TFC attempts toward the goal. Seven chances to score, seven stops, luckily for the Sounders.

It was more than just the stop on Altidore. There was a 13th-minute save on Jonathan Osorio, one that prevented the Toronto crowd from reaching a fever pitch. There was a 92nd-minute punch of a bouncing corner kick, depriving Altidore of what would have been a legendary finish in its own right. There was a penalty-kick stop on Michael Bradley, helping the Sounders navigate the game of roulette that is a shootout.

Shortly before the confetti flew, Frei was named Saturday’s MVP for his role in guiding the Sounders to the club’s first ever title. He was surrounded. Teammates clamoring for a moment to celebrate. Journalists looking for some sort of reflection on what had just happened. Photographers looking to capture the moment and the man that helped create it.

Someday, Frei says, the Sounders and their fans will look back on those photos. Buried deep within the club’s stadium, there will be a photo of this championship team, depicting smiling faces and rosy cheeks from the frosty Toronto air. And there Frei will be, a heroic figure for the first title in Sounders history.

“It’s same thing he’s brought from day one of him being a Seattle Sounder,” said Chad Marshall. “He makes so big saves in huge games. That’s the best save I’ve ever seen in person. It was unbelievable. There’s no way he should have gotten there. It kept us in the game and, ultimately, he makes a huge save in the shootout and wins us a championship. He was incredible.”

“This is what you want to be a part of,” Frei added. “We made Sounders history.”


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