Sounders FC keeper Stefan Frei suffered a sprained left knee while midfielder Jordy Delem suffered a torn right ACL during the club’s win against San Jose on Wednesday, coach Brian Schmetzer announced Friday.
Neither player will be available for selection when Seattle hosts Los Angeles FC at Lumen Field on Sunday. It will be the first time Frei misses an MLS start since 2018.
Frei is expected to be out four to six weeks. That could amount to fewer than six matches because of an upcoming FIFA break where the Sounders have an 18-day layoff.
Delem will require surgery that is likely season-ending.
“Jordy Delem is the bad news and that is an ACL and will require surgery,” Schmetzer said. “The good news from last night is Stef. It looked like it would be a significant injury, but it is going to be termed a sprained knee.”
Frei, 35, is a significant loss for the Sounders. Schmetzer prefers to build up scoring plays from the back, meaning short passes and direction from Frei. He’s helped the team collect three shutouts this season and the defense has yet to concede a goal within the flow of play.
The two-time MLS Cup champion recently signed a multiyear deal worth $500,000, according to figures released by the MLS Players Association, and became the eighth player in league history to surpass 1,000 career saves.
The Sounders have retained quality backups through Frei’s eight seasons with the club in addition to Tom Dutra, who’s regarded as one of the best goalkeeper coaches in the sport. But those players are rarely tested in matches.
Schmetzer and Dutra will decide between Stefan Cleveland and Spencer Richey to start Sunday.
“Stefan Cleveland actually has a victory over LAFC on his résumé,” Schmetzer said. “I rely heavily on Tommy’s expertise. But we will make a good decision. They’re both good goalkeepers. We’ll be confident that they can do the job.”
Richey, who signed an $81,375 deal last winter, was on the bench when Frei was injured Wednesday. Schmetzer was unable to substitute Richey into the match because of game rules, with wingback Alex Roldan stepping in and closing out the 1-0 win.
Richey, 28, has previous experience as a starter. He was an injury replacement for FC Cincinnati in 2019. The club was 5-12-2 in those matches, Richey totaling 61 saves.
Cleveland, 26, has spent the past two seasons working with Dutra as Frei’s backup. His only experience starting — and playing in MLS competition — are five matches for the Chicago Fire FC in 2018.
Cleveland recently started in goal for the Tacoma Defiance’s USL Championship opener. He had four saves against the LA Galaxy II to help the Defiance pick up a point with a 1-1 draw.
Delem, who’s in his fifth season, is a quality reserve who was essential when Schmetzer had to balance injuries and multiple call-ups during the Rave Green’s 2019 run to winning the MLS Cup. Although the club’s new formation and midfield depth is less experienced without Delem, it can likely be managed.
“It’s going to be a long recovery for Jordy,” Schmetzer said. Delem joins forward Jordan Morris as Sounders players to suffer potential season-ending knee injuries this season.
“Today he was sitting next to Jordan,” Schmetzer continued. “Jordan was telling him, ‘OK, look, this is what it’s going to be and this is my experiences.’ With Stef, it’s the same. It’s not an ACL, but when those guys come together like that, they help each other out. … The closeness of the guys in the locker room is really a big help when guys go down injured.”
The Sounders (4-0-1) are atop the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield table. Sunday’s match against LAFC (1-1-2) will close out an eight-day stretch where the team played three matches.
Sounders captain Nico Lodeiro remains out with inflammation in his knee. He’s only appeared in 24 minutes of play this season, recording two shots on goal off the bench.
“He’s on anti-inflammatories,” Schmetzer said of Lodeiro’s medical treatment. “We’re trying to calm that down as much as we can. I’m not sure he’s going to make this game. He’ll remain day to day.”
Lodeiro was first replaced in the midfield by Josh Atencio, the homegrown player from Bellevue. But Atencio suffered a quad injury after a Week 2 start against LAFC and will not be available for selection Sunday.
“We’ll hold him out for safety’s sake,” Schmetzer said.
Alex Roldan’s handles when he plays hoops with older brother Cristian is why the latter offered him up to step in for Frei on Wednesday.
“I’m going to be the Metta World Peace,” Cristian said of the NBA player formerly known as Ron Artest. “The hard-nose defender. Alex is going to be the Rajon Rondo, the Kyrie Irving with the ball in his hands. I’ve always thought Alex is better with his hands. … The fact that he pulled it off (not conceding a goal) is something pretty special.”
Cristian scored the game’s lone goal. It was a left-footed blast from outside the box in the 18th minute that the midfielder said is now his career favorite — his father Cesar sending the video clip to every number in his cellphone.
Ana Roldan, the brothers’ mother, had mixed emotions. Cristian said she didn’t like seeing Alex in goal out of concern for his safety.
“She didn’t have nails by the end of the game because she was biting them,” Cristian said of talking to his mother via phone after the match.