Success Follows Former Cal Goalie After Leaving School Early for MLS

Photo: Stefan Frei left Cal after his junior year to pursue a career in Major League Soccer. The All-Pac-10 selection was the first goalkeeper taken in the 2009 Draft, selected 13th overall by Toronto FC. He is currently a candidate for the MLS Rookie of the Year award.
Emma Lantos/File
Stefan Frei left Cal after his junior year to pursue a career in Major League Soccer. The All-Pac-10 selection was the first goalkeeper taken in the 2009 Draft, selected 13th overall by Toronto FC. He is currently a candidate for the MLS Rookie of the Year award.

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After enduring a long day of practice that punished his gloves, former Cal goalkeeper Stefan Frei headed toward a garbage can to throw them away.

"My coach ... told me that instead of throwing away my gloves, I should give them to kids who wanted them," recalls Frei.

That suggestion reminded Frei that now, as a professional athlete with Toronto FC, he able to impact the lives of others through even the simplest actions. But becoming a pro soccer player was not as easy as it sounds.

Frei had to both prove that he was Major League Soccer material and decide whether or not to make the rare choice of leaving college early to enter the United States' top-flight professional soccer league.

While at Cal, Frei made the All-Pac-10 first team and the Top Drawer Soccer's Team of the Season. In program history, he is tied for fourth all-time in career shutouts. In addition, Frei's goals-against average of 0.68, number of shutouts and save percentage of .829 during the regular season were all conference bests in 2008.

"After earning All-American honors and gaining experience as captain of Cal's soccer team, I felt comfortable with skipping my last year of college and moving on to the next stage of my life," says Frei. "Something told me I was ready."

He was. Drafted 13th overall by Toronto in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft, the rookie goalkeeper wasted no time in making a good impression and was named MVP of the 2009 MLS Player Combine in Florida. Around the same time, Frei signed a Generation Adidas contract, which resulted in a much higher salary than the league minimum.

Once the regular season started, Frei was selected to be starting goalkeeper for Toronto and has kept that position ever since, being chosen as the Toronto FC Esquire Player of the Month for April 2009 along the way.

But Frei is not just a renowned player in Toronto; the rest of the league has taken notice of him too, and many see him as a legitimate candidate for the Rookie of the Year award. When asked about the possibility of him earning the award, Frei shrugs it off.

"It's an honor that I'm not specifically aiming for. I just want to perform well and help my team make the playoffs. If I end up winning the award, I guess it means I'm doing something right," he says.

But the transition does not come without some stress, either.

"When the college season is wrapping up, the MLS season is only about half-way done," Frei says. "For me, this is more of a mental issue than a physical issue since the goalkeeper position comes with more psychological strain than some of the other positions do. But I just have to push through it in order to achieve my goals."

And since he's a goalkeeper, Frei is used to protecting his goals and keeping them in sight. His short-term objectives include playing well and soaking up as much information from players and coaches as possible, while his long-term aspirations involve playing nationally, either for the United States or his native Switzerland.

But whether Frei is pushing hard toward his goals or just taking it easy for a short break, he never forgets the basic reasons why he appreciates soccer so much.

"What I love about soccer is the big emphasis on teamwork," Frei says. "It's a beautiful thing when everyone achieves something together, just a feeling you can't describe."

Life after Cal has been a lot of fun for Frei, due not in small part to all of the success he is enjoying on the pitch. But he hasn't forgotten one of the most important places that housed him on his road to reaching such heights.

"I miss Berkeley. I miss my old teammates, the places where I ate, the nice weather, even all the strange people," Frei says with a laugh. "Coming back to play the San Jose Earthquakes and being so close to Cal brought back a lot of good memories."

Now that Frei has become a star soccer player, there is little doubt that he will make many more good memories in the years to come.


Contact Anthony Wu at [email protected]

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