TUKWILA, Wash. – No matter what happens in the 2017 MLS Cup rematch between the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC at BMO Field on Saturday (4 pm ET | ESPN, UniMas in US; TSN, TVAS in Canada), Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei has already cemented his status in franchise lore.
It’s been almost exactly a year since Frei made arguably the most iconic save in MLS Cup history with his sprawling swat of Jozy Altidore’s header, miraculously preserving a 0-0 scoreline in extra time. The rest, of course, is history, as the Sounders would go on to prevail in penalty kicks and win their first-ever MLS championship, with Frei named the game’s MVP for his heroics.
This year’s rematch with TFC means a familiar storyline for Frei, who will be trying for a second straight year to help Seattle knock off the club where he played from 2009-2013. As far as the reception he’s expecting from the Reds’ faithful this time around – a year after he ripped their hearts out – Frei said he’s ready for whatever they might throw at him.
“I expect them to try [to rattle me], but so does everybody,” Frei told reporters after Seattle’s training session on Monday. “It doesn’t matter if you go back to your old squad or if you go to any other [place]. If you go down to Portland, trust me, they’re not nice down there either. You learn to deal with it and zone it out and just focus on the [game].”
It’s been a marathon two-year stretch for the Sounders’ veteran backstop, who put together arguably his best full MLS season to date in 2017, logging 13 clean sheets in 33 starts.
Frei missed the first leg of Seattle’s Western Conference Championship series with the Houston Dynamo after straining his hamstring in a training session. But the 31-year-old said it should be all systems go coming off his return in the second leg.
“I’m not complaining,” Frei said. “I had five years in Toronto where at times halfway into the season we knew we weren’t making the playoffs. And it sucks when you’re sitting there – as much as I like to be lazy sometimes – it sucks when you’re watching TV and having to watch other people play. So, we’re really excited that we’ve pushed it again to the max.”
Frei and the Sounders defense are also coming into this year’s championship bout on a torrid run of form. Seattle have yet to concede a goal in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, in the midst of a remarkable stretch that has seen them hold opponents scoreless over their last 647 postseason minutes.
Frei said the hope is that the Sounders won’t have to rely on penalty kicks to pull out the victory – and that a repeat of “The Save” also won’t be necessary this time around.
“I’m going to try and do the same thing as last year and at some point really zone out you guys and social media and just focus on the game,” he said. “Hopefully I don’t have to make another save. I would really prefer it if one our strikers can be the MVP this year.”