SEATTLE — Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei likes what he sees when he looks at the man currently holding down the role he once occupied at Toronto FC. Only this time, Frei hopes his former club give the man between the posts a fair chance.
Frei will come up against the team he left at the end of the 2013 season in Sunday’s MLS Cup Final in front of a sold-out CenturyLink Field. It will be the third time Frei will face off with his former employers in the final in four years. But while Frei has been a consistent presence as the last line of defense for Seattle, Toronto are likely to be fielding a third different goalkeeper in the final. After Clint Irwin in 2016 and Alex Bono in 2017, Quentin Westberg is set to be the latest man to get the start on Sunday.
“They’ve gone through a few throughout the years,” Frei said at a press conference Thursday ahead of the game. “I think they’ve always had good pieces there, I don’t know why they’re moving on from them.”
Westberg, a former US youth international who joined from French side Auxerre in February, only won the starting job in Toronto in May, displacing Bono, who has admitted the decision came as a “shock.”
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The 33-year-old Westberg has since made the position his own and saved a crucial penalty from Josef Martinez that stopped Atlanta United going 2-0 up in the Eastern Conference Final, enabling Toronto to come back for an upset win on the road.
“Their goalkeeper now has shown he’s very good,” Frei said. “He’s a shorter goalkeeper, very, very athletic, very explosive. He’s very confident with his feet and obviously in the modern game that’s a big aspect as a goalkeeper. Nothing but respect for him. I think he’s a good goalkeeper.”
Frei left Toronto in December 2013 after failing to regain the starting job following a serious injury. He has since repaid Seattle’s faith in his ability and then some, winning the MVP award for the 2016 MLS Cup Final on the back of a miraculous save from Jozy Altidore and another vital stop in the penalty shootout.
While hoping Westberg comes out on the losing side on Sunday, Frei's unity with his fellow goalkeeper is clear.
“I hope we can put a couple past him on the weekend," he said. "But as a goalkeepers’ union member, you want to see goalkeepers get fair chances. We all make mistakes and for a goalkeeper, a mistake can be crucial. It can destroy a game, a season.
“I think you’ve got to look at the bigger bodies of their work, you can’t just move onto the next one after one mistake, you gotta really realize that a goalkeeper’s psyche can be fragile, and you have to treat it well,” he continued. “And I hope they do that because he’s a good goalkeeper.”