SEATTLE – To be honest, the cheers were too loud for such a simple goalkeeping game.
But so little is known about Stefan Cleveland.
Los Angeles FC tossed a ball at goal in the sixth minute, and Cleveland jumped up to get the gentle attempt out of the air. A collective uncertainty gripped Sounders FC fans in Lumen Field on Sunday.
“There’s always a bit of butterflies when you lose your starting goalkeeper,” said Garth Lagerwey, football club president and general manager.
Cleveland secured the ball and defeated any challenge. The crowd of 7,173 spectators burst into jubilation. At the end of the Sounders 2-0 win, they sang “Cleveland Rocks! Cleveland Rocks! “
Coincidentally also from Ohio, Cleveland ended the Sounders with three saves and helped them seal their fourth goal of the season.
Sunday was the first time since 2018 and the fifth time in the last seven years that the Sounders didn’t have Stefan Frei in goal. The two-time MLS Cup champion sprained a knee in the second half against San Jose on Wednesday and is out for at least a month.
With no international competitions or open preparation games in the past two seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no chance to see Cleveland – or a backup for free – play.
Cleveland made its introduction early. LAFC created several tense moments in the first half, with Schmetzer’s tactics shifting to defender Xavier Arreaga and starting much of the game from behind instead of what Frei would have led.
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LAFC midfielder Corey Baird had a solid chance in the ninth minute when he shot on goal with his left foot. Cleveland saved confidently and seemed to have settled into the match. For other challenges near the penalty area, center-backs Nouhou and Yeimar Gomez Andrade were there to block or clear the attempt.
But the Sounders attack was a mess. Left winger Brad Smith had a shot wide in the 43rd minute. Striker Will Bruin had too high a shooting sail with his right foot in the 44th minute. He seemed to injure his back during the game and left the field for evaluation, but stayed in the game.
Arreaga broke the impasse in the second half. Midfielder Joao Paulo had a precise pass that Arreaga shot into goal after Pablo Sisniega in the 57th minute. It’s Joao Paulo’s third assist of the season and Arreaga’s first goal.
Sounders Wingback Brad Smith added a header pad in the 73rd minute. Striker Raul Ruidiaz hit a misdirected pass in midfield and sent it to full-back Alex Roldan, who sent Smith a nice cross for goal.
It’s Smith’s third goal of the season, the second after his new bald head.
The Sounders prove invincible no matter who is in the line-up. The club is still missing captain Nico Lodeiro (knee). He only showed up from the bank once.
But Seattle (5-0-1) remains at the top of the league with an unbeaten streak of six games and has to concede one more goal in the course of the game.
Cleveland played 90 minutes for the start of the USL Championship at the Tacoma Defiance earlier this month. He made four saves in a 1-1 draw with Los Angeles Galaxy II. Cleveland’s only experience starting an MLS game was five with Chicago Fire FC in 2018.
“If you had told me before the season that we would be first and Lodeiro only played 30 minutes, I would have told you you were crazy,” said Lagerwey. “Things are getting a little bit our way right now and we hope that we will build the group’s faith and resilience. We have a really good system for the talent we have. “