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Frei played the villain against his old team in Sounders' MLS win last season

Last Updated Dec 8, 2017 at 4:40 pm EDT

Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei (24) dives for the ball during practice ahead of the MLS Cup finals against the Toronto FC in Toronto on Friday, December 8, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO – Stefan Frei began his Major League Soccer career for Toronto FC and played five seasons for the Canadian franchise.

His career highlight at BMO Field however didn’t come in a TFC goalkeeper’s shirt, but in a Seattle uniform in the 108th minute of last year’s MLS Cup Final.

Forever preserved on the Internet, and known simply as “The Save,” the six-foot-three Frei dove to his left and just got his finger tips on the ball to deflect a header from Jozy Altidore. The game eventually went to a shootout, and the victory to Seattle.

Altidore’s cross came off a cross from Tosaint Ricketts, and Ricketts had leapt in the air in celebration just as the ball glanced off Frei’s fingers.

One of the team’s most popular players in his time in Toronto, Frei won’t be popular on Saturday when the Sounders and TFC battle again in the MLS Cup Final.

“I expect (Toronto’s) fans to want to win with their team, just as much as I want to win with my team,” Frei said. “I realized I was very fortunate when I started my career here, and I was able to play right away and the fans were always great to me, especially considering that the results on the field weren’t very good.”

Frei played 82 games with Toronto FC during a stint that was more bad times than good. He suffered a broken leg and torn ankle ligaments in training which sidelined him for the 2013 season. He suffered another injury in training upon his return, eventually losing his starting job to Joe Bendik.

Toronto traded him to Seattle in December of 2013 and he’s reinvented himself in the west coast city.

“As much as it was a good time here, that’s in the past,” said Frei, looking like a Viking at Friday’s practice with a long beard and the sides of his head shaved. “I wish the Toronto fans nothing but the best, but obviously in a game like this, I want Seattle to win. I’m sure they want Toronto to win.”

Frei’s famous save is easy to find online. There is even compilation of broadcasting calls of the big deflection, including some from as far away as Japan.

His save wasn’t the only big play being talked about this week in Toronto. Roman Torres scored the winning penalty kick that clinched Seattle’s victory last year, and on the frigid BMO Field pitch Thursday morning, the big Panamanian re-enacted the shot to kick off practice.

“That was just Roman being Roman,” Frei said. “He’s a fun guy, trying to keep the mood light. We are all aware of how big of an opportunity this is, it’s quite a circus here, so there’s definitely some pressure there, and so it’s important you have guys who can lighten the mood a little bit and he’s definitely one of them.”

The Sounders practised again with orange balls, which the league will use if it’s snowing come kickoff.

“I think some of us haven’t played in the snow to be honest,” said midfielder Cristian Roldan. “It’s still going to be a battle regardless of the conditions, I think the game’s going to be a little sluggish at times because no team wants to make a mistake, so everybody is going to be behind the ball, so for me it’s going to be a war.”

While much of the talk has been about the Sounders feeling no pressure as the defending MLS champions, coach Brian Schmetzer shot holes in that theory.

“We’ll be feeling butterflies when the referee blows the whistle as well, it’s normal, those are normal feelings to have,” Schmetzer said. “Hopefully you turn that nervous energy into adrenalin and it helps you on the field. But it’s a final, it’s a big game.

“We’re very relaxed out here because we’ve been here before, yes, we won here last year, all of those things. But when the referee blows the whistle, we will be laser-focused and I will expect them to perform well.”

The Sounders expect to be supported by about 2,000 fans at Saturday’s game.

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