TUKWILA, Wash. – What does Stefan Frei have to do to get some love for Goalkeeper of the Year?
The Seattle Sounders backstop says he’s not thinking about individual accolades at the moment, with more pressing matters on his mind ahead of Thursday’s do-or-die Western Conference Semifinals Leg 2 date with the Portland Timbers at CenturyLink Field (10:30 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN, TVAS) – a series the Sounders trail 2-1 on aggregate.
But with this week’s news that Columbus Crew SC ‘keeper Zack Steffen was named 2018 MLS Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year, it was inevitable that the question would surface at Seattle’s Wednesday training session at Starfire Sports Complex.
Did Frei get snubbed for the award?
“I have to be careful there,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “Look, Zack Steffen is a great young and up-and-coming goalkeeper for his club team, for the [United States] national team. Kid's got a really bright future.
“But if I'm looking at [Frei’s] record: 2016 [was] ‘The Save’ [in MLS Cup]. If you go to 2017, I mean, he was very good last year statistically. So, there's consistency as far as the stats are concerned. Then you come to 2018 and I'll ask you guys: Who was our most consistent guy in the first half of the season when we weren't firing on all cylinders? Who was our most consistent guy? You could argue that Stef was. Stef kept us in this season.”
2018 has arguably been Frei’s most impressive individual campaign since he first arrived in Seattle via a trade with Toronto FC in 2014, as he finished third in MLS with a 1.03 GAA and saved 76 percent of the shots he faced – good for second among qualified ‘keepers.
As Schmetzer pointed out, Frei’s steadiness between the goalposts was also a large factor in allowing the Sounders to stay afloat as the team’s attack struggled to consistently score goals out of the gate. He’s added to his personal highlight reel, too, with an epic swat on Colorado’s Shkelzen Gashi to preserve a 2-1 victory on July 4 that was nominated for MLS Save of the Year – as well as an equally memorable denial of Minnesota United’s Darwin Quintero back in August.
In the end, however, Steffen was given this season’s honors after pulling a commanding 36.18 percent of the player portion of the vote, compared to just 6.76 percent for Frei, who did garner 31.52 percent of the media vote.
“So, if you're asking me, I think it's a bit of a shock to me, of course,” continued Schmetzer. “I think Stef is fairly deserving of the award. I know he's a tough character and individual awards don't matter as much as the team, I know he'd much prefer the team wins tomorrow night than he get the accolades. But I'm certainly sure of this: He's helped this franchise do a lot of great things.”
Frei declined to comment on the results of the vote on Wednesday, but he did offer up his thoughts on social media.
He wasn’t the only Sounder to get passed over for an end-of-season award. Center back Chad Marshall was nominated for what would have been his league record-extending fourth Defender of the Year award, but was edged out by the New York Red Bulls’ Aaron Long. Midfielder Ozzie Alonso, meanwhile, was a finalist for Comeback Player of the Year – an honor that went to Columbus’ Gyasi Zardes.
“I hope it bothers Stef a little bit,” Schmetzer said. “We're all human. Chad is Chad, he's a happy-go-lucky guy, a good guy. He'll tell you the same thing, that he'd rather win tomorrow than get the award. But deep down inside I think every competitive athlete has that little bit of drive and desire to be the best at what they do. So I think that's normal.”