Interview by Alex Baker
This is the second of two installments of an extensive interview Seattle Sounders FC goalkeeper Stefan Frei granted to IMSoccer. In the first installment we focused on Frei’s art and his involvement with “The Fabric of the Sounders FC,” a fan-based, community tifo project produced in collaboration with Delta Air Lines.
In this installment however, we’ll be talking strictly soccer.
IMS: You guys have had an up-and-down early part of the season. How big a blow was it to lose (leading goal-scorer) Obafemi Martins like you did right before the season started?
SF: It’s a big blow. I’m not going to lie. He’s the best player I’ve ever played with. You know, I mean he can have the worst game of his life, but everybody on the pitch still knows he needs a split second and he can change the game. So you don’t simply replace a player like that.
Me: Jordan Morris has been coming into some form lately. He took some heat for choosing MLS over an opportunity to play in Germany. Do you think he’s going to prove that he made the right decision?
SF: I think he made his decision and therefore, it was the right decision. He took a hard look at all the options he had, I mean he went as far as going and training with Werder Bremen, so it wasn’t just some kind of immature decision, ‘oh I want to stay at home.’
I think he’s put a little bit of pressure on himself. But once he found that first goal, I think he’s been able to calm down a little bit and just finding himself and enjoying his football a little more.
But the best thing about him, I think he still has a lot of room to grow. He’s a young, talented player; he has the right head on his shoulders. He now he has to put in a lot of work, but I know he’s willing to do that.
IMS: You train with him day in, day out, I’m sure he’s trying to score on you…
IMS: (Laughing) Of course! But what do you think the ceiling is for a guy like Jordan? Does he have as much potential as the hype suggests?
SF: Yeah, I don’t think you want to put a ceiling on someone like him. It sounds really silly, but his possibilities seem limitless, it really depends on how he kind of deals with everything. Obviously there’ s a little bit of luck involved to stay healthy, to get chances from the right people to show what you’re made of. He’s got everything to make him one of the best soccer players the U.S. has ever seen.
IMS: You trained with Liverpool for a while. What were your impressions in terms of the difference between the EPL and MLS?
SF: I think that the lasting impression I had, kind of weird, but we’re talking about an iconic soccer club that has world-class players, and I think that what impressed me was the simplicity of it all. You know they’re not super-humans, they don’t do bicycle kicks left and right. They do the simple things that every other player will do. The main difference is that they try to do it to perfection in all those little things.
Every pass is crisp, every pass is on the ground, it’s with intention; meaning it’s played to the guy’s right leg, because the guy is right-legged and I want him to go to the right side. It’s the attention to detail. The striving for perfection and most of the time the success to achieve that perfection that makes them so unique. So in a way, it was really nice to see that they weren’t super-humans, because it makes you feel like ‘hey you’re not that far off.’
IMS: What does MLS need to do in order to close that gap?
SF: This is still a young league and I would argue that tactically and technically, we’re not there yet. But it’s demanding. That’s why you see older – I’m not going to say old, European players come over here and struggle, because they think they can just waltz over everything here. But the thing is; if you can’t match that intensity, they’re just going to run circles around you.
We definitely have to catch up on technical level and tactical level. But again, I think [MLS] is a very tough league and it’s headed in the right direction.
IMS: American and MLS goalkeepers have a pretty good track record in Europe. Ever consider taking your career in that direction?
SF: I did, when I was done in Toronto I thought that my time is running out, I should try my luck in Europe and see what happens, but it’s actually really exciting to be part of this growing league and I’ll give you an example why.
If you go to the San Siro and you get to go tour their stadium and you go see all the trophies, you see all the pictures, and you’ll come across, in pretty much every stadium, you’ll come across that black and white picture of the team that achieved the such and such trophy for the very first time. Well you can still do that in MLS.
If we win the league, the Sounders, granted the picture won’t be black and white, but I’ll be in that picture. You can make history here. You can be one of the pioneers, one of the people that helped build the sport in this country and in the city. So I’m really excited to be part of that and as of now I’m not seeing myself wanting to move away from it, I’m embracing it because I love it here.
IMS: That’s cool, never heard it put quite that way. Speaking of Europe, coming from Switzerland, how do you rate the Swiss’ chances at the Euros next month?
SF: It’s tricky with these tournaments. I think that Switzerland fancies their chances I would say, but that being said, when it comes to these tournaments, sometimes luck has to be on your side. So you have to have the right players be healthy. Switzerland has to be firing on all cylinders and they have to have their confidence up.
And maybe you get the right call here and there, you get the wrong call here and there and that can be the difference. So luck has to be on your side sometimes. But I think that if everything goes right, they have the players, Switzerland will get out of the group and who knows what will happen after that.
IMS: What about someone like Xherdan Shaqiri, he’s a game-changer. Does he have the potential to take the team on his back?
SF: Absolutely. I’m a huge Bayern Munich fan and when he played for Bayern, he was mainly a sub, but even then you know when he would come in you could tell he was the spark. Lots of talent, lots of ability and very fierce like a little bulldog, so he’s a key player for [Switzerland].
So is he going to come in healthy, is he going to come in motivated? Is he willing to take this team on his shoulders? I think he’s more than capable of doing it, but all these answers we will only find out once the referee blows the whistle and we get to enjoy the spectacle.
Photo courtesy of ISI Photos taken by Michael Janosz.