The Stefan Frei era at Toronto FC is officially over. For the most part, the word era is too generously granted in the sporting community to comment on a specified passage of time. But sadly for Toronto FC, Stefan Frei's career is the closest thing to an era they have ever achieved. He was the longest running non-abstract consistency that the club has ever known, with disappointment and failure qualifying as abstract. Although, it's probably only a matter of time before TFC literally have players named "Disappointment" (probably Brazilian) and "Failure" (definitely Brazilian) on the team.
2009-2013 was the duration of the Frei Era, which began when he was drafted 13th overall by Toronto FC at the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. It concluded this morning when the 27 year-old Swiss keeper was dealt to the Seattle Sounders in exchange for a conditional draft pick in the 2015 SuperDraft. During the time he would become the team's longest serving player. For the club, the five-year period is a distinctly dark time: the same disappointing results without the new-car feeling that encompassed the early days. But when considering Frei himself the memory is very different.
Frei was always a glimmer of hope for the team, a player rarely remembered in bad light. He was a consummate professional, and a player who genuinely seemed to enjoy the fans, the city and the team. But more than anything, he always seemed to be present for the club's sparse triumphs. He was in net for the 6-1 victory over Montreal that won Toronto its first Voyageurs Cup. That same season, his first in the league, he not only won the starting job from Greg Sutton but brought the team to within one game of the MLS playoffs. He was even in net at the Rogers Centre in 2012 when the club drew the LA Galaxy in front of 47,000 screaming fans in red.
But sadly, Frei was a little too patriotic in the sense that he always had the Swiss emblem next to his name on the roster sheet. After winning the starting job from Sutton in 2009, he would concede it to Milos Kocic in 2012 after sustaining a broken fibula. Despite the club trading Kocic to Portland at the end of the season, Frei would never regain his starting position. A minor injury in preseason this year would give Joe Bendik all the window space he needed to make himself irreplaceable.
The end of Frei's career at TFC has been expected ever since the team acquired Chris Konopka in September. With the season already over for all intents and purposes, this led fans to start campaigning to get Frei more playing time. Up to that point, Frei had not started a single MLS game and his only two appearances came in the painful two-legged Voyageurs Cup semi-final. Frei, with 98 starts, was also incredibly close to having played 100 matches for the reds. There was hope that he would be given the season ending game against the Montreal Impact as an appreciation for his dedication. He would never get to 100, but it was a fine display of the kind of love Frei had earned from the team's faithful.
Frei would make one final appearance, a 1-0 loss to the Fire in Chicago. He spent the game against Montreal on the bench, which in retrospect may have been a good thing considering the unbelievable save Bendik made to preserve a 1-0 victory. After the game he would parade around the stadium, a man knowing he was on his way out and therefore saying his long and heartfelt goodbyes.
After all is said and done, Frei leaves Toronto with the following numbers to his name: 99 appearances, 30 wins, 38 losses, 29 ties and 28 clean sheets. He was also a part of all four Voyageurs Cup victories.
The plan is for the post- Stefan Frei era of Toronto FC history to go exponentially better than what occurred during. Having Frei's $120,000 off the books will undoubtedly be a helpful tool in accomplishing this plan. But it is too bad that he will not be a part of it, as Frei was one of the few who loved this ugly, messed up team and its suffering fans for what they were.
What is your favourite memory of Toronto's longest serving player?