At times, Stefan Frei sounds like he’s one bad game from retirement.
The Sounders FC keeper recently moved his residence from Queen Anne to Bainbridge Island. Frei, who’s also a budding artist, now talks about communing with nature and ferry times along with tactics for upcoming Major League Soccer opponents and team chemistry.
“I grew up in Switzerland, and I didn’t cherish nature as much as I should’ve when I was a little kid,” Frei said Friday during a video conference call with media. “As I’m getting older, I’m starting to really appreciate it and how good it is to the soul. It’s been amazing. A little example, today on the ferry, driving home I saw an orca out in the wild. It’s crazy. It’s the beautiful Pacific Northwest and I feel blessed that we are able to live here.”
Like many athletes competing amid the pandemic, Frei, 34, is assessing his career and didn’t shy from being boastful about another milestone he’s reached. When Frei takes the field Sunday for the Sounders’ match against the San Jose Earthquakes, it will be his 250th career appearance for the Sounders. The tally is second only to former midfielder Ozzie Alonso, who has 278 appearances, and includes U.S. Open Cup, CONCACAF Champions League and MLS matches.
Frei, who’s now a U.S. citizen, has played for two clubs in the Sounders and Toronto FC since entering the league in 2009. It’s a career like those of his childhood idols in German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn (1987-2008) and Danish keeper Peter Schmeichel (1981-2003).
“It’s difficult, it’s a business,” Frei said. “Sometimes it’s not your choice as a player, but I always wanted to kind of follow that path. I’m also very proud of the fact that I’ve been able to play a lot of games. Last year I didn’t miss a single minute.”
In fact, Frei hasn’t suffered a major injury since missing the 2012 and 2013 seasons in Toronto with a lower leg and broken nose injuries. Media tagged Frei as injury-prone.
“I felt a little bit attacked because I feel like I worked my butt off,” Frei said. “I do take care of myself off the pitch and I take pride in the fact that I’m able to play consistently. I want to keep that going. I want to keep playing for another 10 years. I’m going to keep pushing. I’m not going to surrender that No. 1 spot to a young guy easily. I’m going to push him until someone takes it from me.”
Sunday could be one of Frei’s toughest matches this season. The Quakes were in the midst of a nine-match winless streak when the Sounders walloped San Jose 7-1 at CenturyLink Field on Sept. 10. The Quakes conceded 32 goals during the stretch.
San Jose (6-7-5) has since won four of its past five matches and moved up to seventh place in the Western Conference. The top eight clubs advance to the MLS playoffs.
“Getting spanked a couple of times, it’s never a good feeling,” Frei said, equating the Quakes to the Sounders’ 2016 championship season where Seattle was 6-12-3 headed into August. “In 2016, for us, we were in dark places, and if you’re able to climb out of those holes, that’s powerful. I feel they’re climbing out of that hole right now for themselves. Our experience of climbing out of holes allows us to realize how dangerous of an opponent they are.”
The Sounders (9-4-3) remain without striker Raul Ruidiaz, who is isolating in his native Peru after testing positive for COVID-19 last week while with his national team. The earliest Ruidiaz could return is for the Sounders’ Oct. 27 match against the Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
Sounders midfielder Gustav Svensson (Sweden) and defender Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador) could also be available for selection against Vancouver after honoring their international call-ups. Both are quarantining in the Seattle area as part of MLS safety protocols in order to rejoin the club.
The Sounders had an extra day of rest after MLS postponed Wednesday’s planned home match against the Colorado Rapids due to a coronavirus outbreak within the Colorado club. It is unlikely to be rescheduled, possibly forcing the league to reconfigure how its teams qualify for the postseason. The Supporter’s Shield Foundation announced Saturday it would not give an award for the overall best record for the 2020 MLS season.
“I’m still very concerned with the unknowns of this pandemic,” Frei said after expressing confidence in the medical care Ruidiaz is receiving.
“Is it really a fair season?” Frei said. “You have teams that have had to play difficult opponents numerous times. Soft opponents. Others have had fans at home, have been able to stay at home for the most part. You look at Colorado — how are they going to make up their games? It’s going to be impossible. … I know how difficult it is to win Supporter’s Shield. I know how difficult it is to win MLS Cup. You don’t want to have a huge asterisk on those.”
Regardless, it would be just one in a storied career for Frei.