In his first trip there in LAFC’s inaugural season, in the stadium opener, Frei had a free kick from Laurent Ciman knuckle under his fingertips in second-half stoppage time for the game’s only goal in a 1-0 defeat. Things didn’t go much better the second time around, as Seattle were blown out 4-1 back on April 21.
Combine that inauspicious history with how the Sounders are now tasked with besting an LAFC side that just rattled off the greatest regular season in MLS history in Tuesday’s Western Conference Final, and Seattle certainly have their work cut out for them (10 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US; TVAS, TSN 1/5 in Canada).
But if Frei cares one iota about those past matchups, he certainly wasn’t showing it in a candid media scrum at Starfire Soccer Complex on Saturday.
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“If they want to let us be the underdog and they’re the favorites, then so be it,” Frei said. “We’ll take it. Please, feel as confident as you want. Don’t give us any respect, that’s amazing, that sounds great to me. Because I believe in our squad, I think we have good players and if they come into this game [taking it] lightly, then they’re going to be in for a treat.”
While a win over LAFC might be remembered as a statement result, the Sounders’ backstop said his focus team’s focus is singular irrespective of the opponent. After all, Seattle have plenty of veteran faces on the team who don’t know how many more opportunities like this they’re going to get.
“I think [LA] has been a difficult place to play for most teams,” Frei said. “Yeah, it’s going to be difficult. But that being said, I think we look at it as an opportunity to win a trophy. We’ve had a very strange year, a frustrating year, but here we are playing for trophies. I think that’s why you put in everything you put in throughout the year. If you don’t want to win trophies, then let’s not even start this. There’s too much effort being put in to not realize that this is it, this is what you play for.
“I don’t think we should cloud it with other things, ‘Oh, let’s make a statement.’ No, win let’s win a trophy. That’s the opportunity. It’ll be a heck of a game, and I think we’re ready.”
Frei also weighed in on the most talked-about interview in MLS from last week, a testy postgame exchange between LAFC head coach Bob Bradley and ESPN reporter Sebastian Salazar after his team’s 5-3 win over the LA Galaxy. Bradley bristled at a question regarding superstar Carlos Vela’s big-game chops.
As the Sounders get to match up with the presumptive Landon Donovan MVP award winner, Frei said there’s no question about what the Sounders should expect.
“I think there’s too much being put on that,” Frei said. “When someone has a ridiculous season like that and if he doesn’t score in the playoffs all of the sudden, ‘Oh, he faltered in a pressure moment.’ No. What the guy has done this year speaks for itself. I think he probably puts that pressure on himself game in and game out. When all of the sudden you’re out in front of everybody else and scored so many goals, teams key in on you. The pressure is on at that point already. …I think the pressure he’s dealt with all year to get to where he’s at is a remarkable achievement.
“I think he’s been hands down the best player in our league, consistently,” he added. “And whoever argues differently, I think, is smoking something."