TORONTO – In an alternate universe, Saturday night could easily have been the crowning moment of Stefan Frei’s career.
But thanks to the trade to the Seattle Sounders four years ago Sunday, the Swiss-born goalkeeper could only watch as the success-starved fans that once chanted his name cheered instead as he conceded goals to Jozy Altidore and Victor Vazquez as Toronto FC earned a 2-0 victory and the franchise’s first MLS Cup.
Having backstopped Seattle to their breakthrough MLS Cup success in Toronto a year ago, Frei was understandably dejected following the game as his side missed the opportunity to become just the fourth franchise to win back-to-back titles.
And coming up second-best against the team that drafted him 13th overall in the 2009 SuperDraft did little to salve the wounds, particularly after an exceptional nine-save performance that kept Seattle in the contest far longer than they otherwise would have been.
“If I wasn’t in the final I would have wanted Toronto to win,” he said, adding that there are still a few members of staff on the Toronto payroll from his five years in Toronto.
He also paid tribute to the Toronto fans, saying that he still sees many of them at the Charleston Cup, where they engage in friendly exchanges, even though he’s now between the sticks for the Rave Green.
“I’m happy for them,” he said. “Obviously in the final it sucks that they’re the opponent and we have to lose to them.”
While the agony of defeat may well stick with him for a while, Frei said his time in Toronto helped make him the goalkeeper – and man – that he is today.
“I’m appreciative of the time I had in Toronto even though the time on the field and the success was not there,” he said. “I think I grew a lot when I was here and I had good people around me that allowed me to grow so I’m happy with that.”
Despite coming up short on the day, Frei said he felt that the Sounders are a better team than the squad that won it all in a penalty shootout in 2016, with the addition of a healthy Clint Dempsey and striker Will Bruin. However, that will come as scant consolation after seeing his team lose the possession battle as well as getting outshot 22-7, generating just two attempts on target over the 90 minutes.
“I feel this team offensively was a stronger squad than we had last year,” he said.
“I think a lot of analysts underestimated how good we were offensively but now we stand here with essentially no possession, not really any chances, not dangerous, nothing to show for it.”
Congratulating his former squad, he conceded that the better team had won on the day, and when Toronto pressed, Seattle had no reply. What irked him the most was that despite the feeling that the game wasn’t being played on Seattle’s terms, his teammates weren’t able to respond.
“I felt like we accepted defeat,” he said. “Before they even scored we accepted the fact the way the game was being played and it wasn’t good for us obviously.”