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Toronto FC 2011 Top 40 Countdown: Number 5 - Stefan Frei

Poor poor Stefan Frei.  Way too many of this type of picture available to choose from this season.
Poor poor Stefan Frei. Way too many of this type of picture available to choose from this season.

Super Stefan Frei! When he's in net....well, a whole lot of things got by this year didn't they. It's tough to blame him too much as any goalie would have struggled behind that defence. Despite being statistically among the worst regular starting goalies in MLS this year, he makes it into the Toronto FC Top 40 Countdown at number 5, it's Stefan Frei.

Average Ranking: 6.227
Highest Ranking: 1
Lowest Ranking: 18

Duncan: 5. With Milos Kocic coming in at number 6 yesterday, today very neatly sees Stefan Frei take the number 5 spot. As the votes flooded/trickled in, Kocic was actually ahead of Frei for a while, before Frei finally pulled ahead. Score one for Frei, but when it really mattered, when the season was on the line with the game in Dallas, Aron Winter chose Kocic, and thus Frei ended the season on the bench.

The season had started with him as the obvious number one, with the general concensus being that he was good enough to be inevitably heading to Europe at some point. Now though he isn't quite seen as surplus to requirements, he's seen as the best trade bait TFC has to improve the squad in other positions. Mainly that's a testament to Milos Kocic's play, but it's an appropriate ending to a very tough season for Frei. After looking very good behind Preki's defence oriented team and the excellent Cann and Attakora Centre Back partnership, having to play behind the chaos that passed for a defence in the first half of the season was a poisoned chalice that would have made any goalie look bad.

The amount of shots he faced was far and away more than any other goalie by the time injuries forced him out of the first team, meaning he easily led the league in both saves and goals against at that time. Even after missing games late in the season, he finished with the league lead with 49 goals allowed, and came very close to still being at the top of the saves category. Meanwhile, his 1.83 goals against stat was by far the highest of all the goalies who played any kind of regular minutes. All of that really doesn't look good, but it would be massively unfair to say it's in any way representative of the season he had, when he was one of TFC's best players and at times the only reason it wasn't actually worse than those stats.

It would be wrong however to say he's blameless for the amount of shots he faced, as I think any goalie has a big part to play in how organised or unorganised a defence can look. Coming for crosses and controlling his area was definitely a weak spot in 2009 for Frei. He looked much improved in 2010, but with very little help coming from the formation or defensive style this year, that weak spot was again exposed, and Milos Kocic looked much better in that regard.

The main reason for that is the improved squad and more defensive formation used towards the end of the season, but like I said yesterday when talking about Kocic, it's a chicken and egg situation. Does the organised defence make the goalie look better, or is it the better goalie making the defence look more organised? Doubt and confidence are powerful things at the professional level, and both can spread from defence to goalie and back again.

Frei wasn't as decisive and aggressive as Kocic, and when he did come for balls, especially from corners, it was often a bit of adventure. That's got to place doubt in the minds of the defenders ahead of him, which will lead to more hesitant and confused play from them, all of which adds up to the shooting gallery that Frei was exposed to on way too many occasions this year. Of course it works the other way round as well, if the defence is doing it's job well, that will lead to a more confident, less hesitant goalie. As 2010 under Preki showed, if the defence and goalie are well organised, know what their responsibilities are, and have confidence in each other, they can all look very good.

There are many players who have left TFC and gone on to flourish in more ideal circumstances at other clubs and if Frei is traded this off season I'll confidently predict he'll join them. At times this season, he looked weary and beaten down, shellshocked almost. That really can't have been a good defence to play behind, and he was proved not good enough to be able to rescue them. He still managed to show off his undoubted shot stopping ability, and if he can play behind a more individually talented and cohesively organised defence (and who knows, maybe that will be with TFC next season) that helps keep the shots to a minimum, he will do very well, and we'll see a return of that 'too good for MLS, bound to leave to Europe soon' Frei that we saw in 2010.

One last thing, an area where Frei showed absolutely no decline this year is in character. He always resisted the chance to throw his teammates under the bus after a tough game, never taking the opportunity to deflect any blame from himself, and often accepting more responsibility than necessary for the team's defensive shortcomings. His immediate on pitch support for Milos Kocic after his mistake against Real Esteli was a great moment and his subsequent happiness for him when he had more successful games was clearly very genuine. Say what you like about his game this year, but he definitely showed himself to be a first class teammate.

Dave: 9. Interesting that he has ended up being the top ranked keeper on our list. To be fair he did play the most minutes in goal this season and has always been a fan favourite. Frei was subjected to playing behind some awful backlines during the first half of the season and that really made his stats look bad and led to him facing a handful of quality chances each game. His season is a tough one to judge since he seemed to lose the starting job down the stretch even after he came back from injury. This offseason the questions of where he might be next year will certainly surface again but either way he will go down as one of the best TFC players thus far.

Keaton: 6. Stefan had to deal with some injuries, and once he came back Milos had taken the helm. There have always been rumblings of Stefan leaving to Europe, and I could see that actually happening this January. I just don't think he's good enough to get steady playing time in Europe, but hey, power to him. Plus he's Alexander Frei's bro, so he's got mad hook ups.

Blindfolded Tank Driver: The Swiss keeper was left out to dry for most of the season and did everything he could to make TFC appear like a Pro football squad.

Ignirtoq: If Frei were to move to greener pastures, I'd be ok with that and he'd deserve successes elsewhere in the league. He is one of the premiere keepers in MLS, but those who are stats-driven may never know this. He deserves a championship and a career worthy of his talents.

Devon Taylor: Although the stats don't show it, Frei may be one of the two or three best keepers in the league. He has kept TFC in the game numerous times, only for the defence to hang him out to dry.

Jimmy Stone: Even after losing his place over the season Toronto's most consistent player

The Yorkies: Still our # 1

Macs_Daddy: Finally after 2 years, it becomes evident to TFC fans and media that this guys is not that great a keeper

JC_Plante: Is a great shot stopper, and now becomes perfect trade bait for a left or center back

James: Played such a key role that it's hard to not put him higher, feel his frustrations got the better of him midseason - needed a rest. True professional for the club, sad if he leaves, but great career ahead.

Michelle: I put him at #1 because I can. In the beginning of the season he was rated one of the top keepers in MLS, and for TFC he was our best. He got injured and now everyone is good if he gets traded. Its disappointing how quickly people can change their allegiance.

Kristin: Super Frei. 'Nuff said. Won't be back next year.

Alex: Solid mainstay, the injuries limited him unfortunately

Peter Meraw: Great leadership and competitive snarl at the back. Great athleticism. Hampered by injury but an important fan favourite when fit.

Number 6: Milos Kocic
Number 4: Richard Eckersley

Full Top 40 so far