Two days after reaching another milestone, Sounders FC keeper Stefan Frei’s season was put in doubt in the waning minutes of a 1-0 win against San Jose on Wednesday.
The two-time MLS Cup champion was defending a free kick when he spun to the ground, his left leg twisting behind him on the landing. The broadcast did not clearly show if it was contact or the landing that made Frei respond in agony and need immediate medical attention, including being helped off the PayPal Park field.
The Sounders returned from California around 1 a.m. Thursday, and no definitive medical update was given for Frei or midfielder Jordy Delem, who suffered an apparent right-knee injury in the opening half and was shown using crutches on the TV broadcast.
Frei did indicate the injury may not be season ending on Twitter Thursday night. It read, “Lucky to have the impact dispersed. A few tears, but nothing important. I will work hard to be back on the pitch as soon as possible. Thanks for all the support.”
Delem, who was part of the club’s 2019 league championship win, posted a message to followers Thursday afternoon.
It read, in part, “Thank you everyone for the support and encouragement! Unfortunately it’s part of life, of the job and we have to deal with it to be stronger! On a positive note it was a great fight for the win! Speed and well recovery bro (Frei).”
Delem also congratulated Cristian Roldan on his game-winning goal in the 18th minute and Alex Roldan for replacing Frei in stoppage time and preserving the shutout.
“The team played really well,” Sounders defender Yeimar Gomez Andrade said, as translated from Spanish, in a postgame interview. “At the same time I’m very sad for the two injuries that we had on our team as well. It’s a difficult situation.”
Frei collected his 1,000th save in a road win against Portland on Sunday, totaling 1,007 after Wednesday’s performance. Only eight players in MLS’s 26-year history have reached the milestone.
The 13-year veteran and Cristian Roldan, who’s in his seventh season, are two of the most reliable players in the Sounders’ rotation. Frei hasn’t missed an MLS start since 2018.
The Sounders’ upcoming match against Los Angeles FC on Sunday at Lumen Field could be the first. But who will step in is as uncertain publicly as the prognoses of Frei and Delem’s injuries.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of the Sounders’ training sessions have been closed to media and the public. The club signed former University of Washington keeper Spencer Richey during the offseason and retained Stefan Cleveland as backup, both of whom Frei has praised for their work ethic. But there’s no indication who would step in for Frei.
Richey has the most experience. He has logged 2,619 minutes in three previous MLS seasons. He even won a starting position with FC Cincinnati in 2019 due to a player injury.
Cleveland hasn’t played since he started five matches for the Chicago Fire FC in 2018. But he has been with the Sounders and working with keeper coach Tom Dutra the past two seasons.
“Goalkeeping is a funny position,” Richey said in February during a call with media. “I know that, yeah, you might not play for long stretches, but also things can change at any moment. You better be ready when you get those opportunities ’cause in goalkeeping it’s tough to win the main job to be the guy. Often times if you step into that position and you do well, it’s also something you can hang onto for a while.”
The Sounders (4-0-1) are atop the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings. That’s despite changing formation after winger Jordan Morris suffered a season-ending knee injury in February. But Frei was integral in keeping the defense steady, the club conceding only two goals in five matches.
Scheduling could help the Sounders transition through another significant player injury if needed. The club has only three matches remaining this month before an 18-day layoff in June due to a FIFA international window.