SEATTLE — Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei has a lot of specific memories from that day last December in Toronto, from the bone-chilling cold, to the layer of frost on the field, to the save that everyone continues to talk about around Seattle.
“A lot of people have seen that moment and it is one thing that I guess when they see me that pops in their head. I don’t mind,” Frei said. “It’s a nice memory.”
What stands out the most for Frei is the history that he and his teammates made on that night when they beat Toronto on penalty kicks to claim Seattle’s first MLS Cup title. It’s history that will be revisited this week as the Sounders host Toronto on Saturday in a cup final rematch that’s the only regular-season meeting between the sides in 2017.
Toronto is surging of late, including last Saturday’s 2-0 win over Houston and Wednesday’s 2-1 win against Eastern Conference-leading Orlando City behind two goals from Sebastian Giovinco. Seattle had to rally with three late goals for a 3-3 draw with New England last weekend, its fourth draw already this season.
While there will be plenty of attention on the stars Saturday, most of the focus will likely be on Frei and what he accomplished five months ago.
In an otherwise forgettable final, Frei stood out. He made seven saves but none was shown more often or talked about more on social media than his leaping stop of Jozy Altidore’s header in extra time that seemed destined for the upper corner of the goal.
The save got Seattle to penalty kicks where the Sounders eventually won on Roman Torres’ converted penalty. Frei doesn’t mind that his other saves seem forgotten.
“It’s the life of the goalkeeper,” he said. “The other ones are difficult decisions but they’re not the highlight reel kind of save that sticks out.”
Making Frei’s performance even more remarkable were the below-freezing temperatures. Frei said one move that helped significantly was putting a heat pack in the towel he took with him to the field at halftime. The heat pack provided only a slight burst of warmth but every little bit helped.
“You try and not make too big of a deal about it because everybody has to deal with the same thing,” Frei said. “It was pretty crazy conditions, probably the craziest I’ve had to deal with, but everybody on the pitch had to deal with it.”
BEST OF THE REST: The highlight of the rest of the schedule this week is teams from the last two MLS expansions meeting for the first time when Atlanta United travels to Yankee Stadium to face New York City FC on Sunday. It’s a meeting of the top two scoring teams in the Eastern Conference — Atlanta leads the East with 18 goals, NYCFC is tied with New England for second with 14.
Also of note is Western Conference-leading Portland at San Jose. The Timbers will be trying to get a point in their fourth road game of the season; Portland got points in just six road matches during the 2016 season.
STICKING AROUND: David Villa will continue his stint with New York City FC after signing a one-year contract extension this week that will keep him with the club through the 2018 season. The 35-year-old was the league MVP a season ago and the first signing ever by the club back in 2014. Villa has 46 goals and 15 assists in 70 regular-season games with NYCFC.
“I’m so happy here in this city and at this club, I am fit and I can do things on the pitch. I’m not ready to go to the sidelines,” Villa said. “That’s why continuing here and signing this contract was a really easy decision for me.”
WINDOW CLOSING: The MLS primary transfer window closes Monday, meaning for two months teams will be unable to sign players under contract in other countries or make trades. Teams can sign players who are not under contract.
If teams are unhappy with their rosters it’s not a long break before the secondary transfer window opens on July 10 and remains open until Aug. 9.
PLAYER OF THE MONTH: Orlando City goalkeeper Joe Bendik was voted the MLS player of the month for April after winning four straight matches during the month, including two shutouts. Bendik already has three shutouts on the season, second best in the league.