The Seattle Sounders have always been spoiled at keeper: Burpo, Hahnemann, Keller. Current goalie Stefan Frei had some key saves Sunday night and kept his fourth clean sheet, but he is not yet a complete keeper. And may never be. Frei has a real Yin and Yang to his game.
A keeper’s first responsibility is to his goal, and at this Frei excels. He is a helluva shot stopper. He can get big and snap a quick-reflex save with the best of them. He usually has solid positioning and knows when to leave his line. But a goalie is often starting a team’s attack, whether off a goal kick or taking a backpass to recycle the possession. Solid distribution is a key part of the position.
Think of Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando. He sees the field well and acts decisively to get the ball at the feet of Javier Morales or whomever. Whether he is booting it or not, Rimando usually makes the right decision and executes it. Frei… not so much.
Against Portland, you never knew where the ball was going to end up when Frei kicked it. He booted it straight out of bounds on more than a few occasions. One of the oddest sights from the game was in the dying moments when Seattle had a goal kick. Frei had just sent one straight into the bleachers and as he was getting ready to kick again, all 20 field players congregated tightly around the center circle. It looked like a schoolyard game of 500. Luckily the ball drifted right and ended up with Andy Rose. Again, luckily. It’s pretty bad when you can only hope your keeper will get the ball to someone wearing Rave Green.
Normally MLS Defender-of-the-Year Chad Marshall takes a short pass from Frei and kick starts possession. That’s because Marshall is one of the very best at his position, he does absolutely everything that’s required of him well. His absence Sunday put Frei’s weakness in sharp relief. That said, Stefan Frei has come a very long way since last season, even Sigi pointed this out postgame. Despite the wild kick here and there, Frei is confident and protecting his goal.