Talk should be about how two stalwarts of the Sounders FC lineup kept the team on the winning track. But in the closing minute of Wednesday’s match, keeper Stefan Frei suffered an apparent left knee injury that nearly eclipsed all of the positives that were part of the Sounders’ 1-0 win against San Jose at PayPal Park.
Frei was in the midst of making a save in the 90th minute when he landed awkwardly and had to be helped off the field. Because the club was out of substitutions, there was a discussion about which Sounders field player would replace Frei in goal.
Cristian Roldan told coach Brian Schmetzer it should be his younger brother, right wingback Alex Roldan. Despite not recalling ever playing keeper before, Alex had three clutch saves to preserve the team’s third shutout of the season.
“That’s one thing about me, I’ve always had confidence in what I do,” Alex said. He’s the first Sounders field player to play in goal. Wednesday’s occurrence was the 12th time in MLS’s 26-year history.
“The coaching staff and my brother as well put confidence in me to step in there,” Alex continued. “Luckily we were able to come out with a win. That’s the best part.”
Cristian provided the lone goal in the match. Seattle’s five-match unbeaten streak ties the franchise-best start set in 2019.
The bad part is the Sounders will travel home with two injured players. Frei and midfielder Jordy Delem, who was shown on the television broadcast using crutches after suffering an apparent knee injury in the opening half.
“We’re going to bring them home to Seattle and assess them there,” Schmetzer said.
Sounders defender Xavier Arreaga made a long pass for Nouhou to chase down just outside the left side of the box that helped set up Cristian’s score. Nouhou’s cross was blocked by Quakes keeper JT Marcinkowski but defender Florian Jungwirth poorly cleared the ball.
Cristian took the gift and space to set up a running, left-footed shot that landed in the right side of the net. The score in the 18th minute is his first of the season.
Frei had another textbook save to deny San Jose from a first-half score. Quakes midfielder Eric Remedi cut a pass from deep in the box back to forward Cade Cowell, who was well positioned for a right-foot score.
Frei read the play well, getting a right hand out to bat the ball off target.
San Jose (3-2) challenged the Sounders’ defense more in the second half with three good looks in a 10-minute span. Cristian flicked one away, Frei punched one over the net and a third grazed past the mouth of the goal.
The Sounders (4-0-1) have yet to concede a goal with in the flow of the game. Both of the scores against them were on free kicks.
Schmetzer made four player changes and a formation switch for the midweek match. The club played three forwards with Kelyn Rowe and Ethan Dobbelaere flanking striker Raul Ruidiaz.
Nouhou was moved up to wingback where Brad Smith started for the last four matches. Danny Leyva replaced Joao Paulo in the midfield while Delem and Arreaga started as part of the three center backs along the backline.
Schmetzer was forced to make a change early in the match. Delem suffered an apparent right leg injury in the 4th minute and had to be helped off the field. He was substituted out by defender Shane O’Neill in the 9th minute.
Another substitution followed at halftime when Dobbelaere was replaced by club veteran Fredy Montero in the 46th minute.
While the formation is a first under Schmetzer, a player shuffle was expected. Seattle defeated the Portland Timbers at Providence Park on Sunday and host Los Angeles FC on May 16, marking three matches in an eight-day span.
Yet, despite injuries and schedule, the Sounders are able to pull out wins.
“They absolutely delivered tonight,” Schmetzer said of his team. “They came up with plays and did things and were able to figure stuff out in one of the most oddest games that I’ve been involved in. Losing two guys to injury like that. (And) I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in a game where a goalkeeper has been injured and we didn’t have subs. Credit to Alex.
“A lot of people have written this team off. Some people don’t think this team is good enough to win a championship, I disagree completely.”
Sounders sign player to Homegrown contract
The Sounders announced Wednesday the signing of midfielder Reed Baker-Whiting to a four-year Homegrown Player contract, with the an addition club option year. The Seattleite made seven appearances for the USL Championship side Tacoma Defiance in 2020.
“We are excited to add another young, talented player to our roster,” Garth Lagerwey, the Sounders general manager and president of soccer said in a news release. “Reed has shown promise in his time with the Academy and Tacoma Defiance, in addition to his extended time training in the First Team environment. It’s always nice to see young players climb the ranks within our development pipeline, and we look forward to seeing how Reed progresses from here.”
Baker-Whiting, 16, is the 17th Homegrown signing for the Sounders. He was on the club’s U-12 squad that won the 2017 Youdan Trophy and featured for the U-17 team that won the 2019 Generation adidas Cup Champions Division.