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Frei earns his ‘keep
March 28, 2009, 10:46 AM
Filed under: Stefan Frei, Toronto FC

As debuts go, Toronto FC goalkeeper Stefan Frei made a fairly balanced start to his Major League Soccer career last weekend. Twice he was called on to make saves, and twice more he was called on to pick the ball out of the net following unstoppable drives from Kansas City Wizards midfielder Davy Arnaud.

While facing just four shots on goal might not seem to be the best way to test your mettle in your first professional outing, as far as Toronto’s new No. 1 is concerned, it was four shots too many.

“A game where I don’t have to do anything, that’s the perfect day for me,” the Swiss-born stopper said. “As much as I want to play well, if nobody ever hears my name or has to see me on the field, then that’s fine with me as long as we get the win.”

Few in Toronto had heard his name before January, when it was called out as the first goalkeeper taken in the MLS’s SuperDraft with the 13th overall pick. But with his path to the starting lineup blocked by incumbent Greg Sutton and veteran Brian Edwards, getting the nod for the season opener last Saturday seemed almost as unlikely as TFC scoring three goals on the road to get their season off to a winning start for the first time in franchise history.

However, with Sutton nursing a dislocated finger, and with Frei’s impressive displays throughout the preseason still fresh in the memory, head coach John Carver decided to take the plunge and throw his young charge into the deep end, and has no regrets as to how things turned out.

“Any goalkeeper in the league would’ve conceded the two goals,” Carver said. “[Frei] looked confident enough. Everything he had to do, he did well.”

His level of confidence will go a long way to determining how effective the 22-year-old fares in his rookie campaign. He certainly talks a good game, describing his first experience as Toronto’s last line of defence as “a dream come true.

“I tried to take it just like any other game, not trying to psych myself out, going through the same preparations as any other game.”

Frei has benefited from the experience around him in the squad, especially among his fellow goalkeeping brethren, and deflects a large portion of the credit for his performance their way.

“Before the game, [Sutton] pulled me aside and said, ‘You’re doing good, just do what you do best and let the game come to you, don’t try anything spectacular and you’ll be fine.’ I really appreciate him taking me under his wing.”

But while Kansas City provided a gentle introduction to the MLS, today’s game offers a much sterner test, with Columbus set to roll out the red carpet to fete its MLS Cup-champion Crew.

Carver is under no illusions as to the task at hand, especially with Amado Guevara, who scored two goals in last week’s victory, and midfield stalwart Carl Robinson away on international duty with Honduras and Wales, respectively.

“We have to deal with [the absences] and get on with it,” Carver said. “[Columbus has] got a couple of guys missing as well so we should be evenly matched. The fact that we’re missing two guys from the heart of our midfield is a little bit concerning, but it will give the opportunity to other players to come into the team and make an impact.”

Carver is relishing the challenge of pitting his wits against the league’s best.

“This is when the hard work starts, because when you start winning games everybody wants to beat you,” he said. “It’s their first home game, they’re going to be presented with their championship rings, so it’s a big day for them, but we hopefully can go there and spoil the party.”

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