Sounders FC

Frei, Gomez face off against their former squad in MLS Cup

Gomez
Gomez Courtesy

Stefan Frei began his Major League Soccer career with Toronto FC in 2009, serving as the franchise’s starting goalkeeper for three of his first five seasons.

Forward Herculez Gomez was traded to Toronto FC late last season and made eight appearances, including one in the MLS playoffs.

The good news is that both players will return to BMO Field on Dec. 10 for the MLS Cup — with the Seattle Sounders.

The bad news is that neither player seemed all that reflective about his former squad.

Frei was drafted 13th overall out of California Berkeley in 2009 and started 26 matches as a rookie. He was named Toronto’s defensive player of the year.

“I was blessed to come out of college and get playing time right away,” Frei said.

But it was a rocky tenure for Frei, starting with all the coaching and roster turnover.

“Seven coaches in five years — and nearly 200 teammates,” Frei said. “It made for difficult times.”

Then during a May practice in 2012, Frei was attempting to kick the ball. He went down screaming and grabbing at his left leg. He not only broke his fibula, he also severely injured his ankle. His season was over.

He entered the following season as the starter, but minor injuries opened the door for Joe Bendik to become the permanent replacement.

Frei was traded to the Sounders later that year.

“I grew there as much as I could, but it was probably the best for me to move somewhere else and get a fresh start,” Frei said.

Whereas Frei was a fresh-faced newcomer, Gomez was an established veteran worldwide when he signed with the playoff-bound Reds in the middle of summer 2015.

Then the Reds landed a bombshell: As the two sides were trying to restructure Gomez’s contract in March, the team instead waived him.

Three weeks later, Gomez signed with the Sounders for the MLS minimum salary — $62,500. And he did not hold back on his animosity toward the Reds, either.

Given a chance to take another shot as his former team Thursday, Gomez did not take the bait.

“I am fortunate to be here,” Gomez said. “We made a good choice. We’re in a good place.

“Toronto is just our rival, nothing personal. … I have a lot of friends there. It’s just another game. For me, it means something because it is a final.”

NOTES

The team held a rare practice indoors Friday, focusing on ball work on one turf field, then going over for gym work on the other one at Starfire Sports. Midfielders Erik Friberg (calf) and Osvaldo Alonso (knee) mainly rode the stationary bike and did light weight-lifting. … Head coach Brian Schmetzer was the coach for the Sounders’ USL-1 squad that won championships in 2005 and 2007. Asked to compared those experiences with this one heading to the MLS Cup, Schmetzer said the Dec. 10 match will be on a “bigger stage,” but added he enjoyed “every second” of both USL-1 titles. … It looks as if the Sounders will leave Wednesday afternoon for Toronto — and win or lose, will not return until Dec. 11. The team will hold at least three on-site press conferences before the MLS Cup. … Of his family, Schmetzer said his wife and son, Colin, would be traveling to the championship match.

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