When New York City FC acquired goalkeeper Matt Freese from the Philadelphia Union this past winter, it looked like the club was setting him up to compete for a starting role. Freese, who stands at 6-foot-3 inches tall, was the backup to Andre Blake, who is arguably the best goalkeeper in MLS. Freese did not get much playing time, as he only featured in 13 games for the Union. Since joining NYCFC, the 24-year-old Freese has started four games between the posts and has logged one clean sheet.
Although Freese has not yet earned the role of starting goalkeeper, he has performed relatively well in his few appearances. With Luis Barraza struggling at times this season, Freese deserves to get more minutes and should be given more credit for how he has performed when called upon. More specifically, Freese deserves to start in New York City’s upcoming game against the New Jersey Red Bulls on Thursday.
Consistent between the posts
In Freese’s few starts in goal, he has been reliable and looked sharp. Freese made his NYCFC debut in the team’s 1-0 loss to FC Cincinnati in the US Open Cup on May 10. Cincinnati has since emerged as the most dangerous team in MLS, and currently carry an eight-point lead in the Supporters’ Shield race. Freese made four saves in that game.
Freese’s worst performance of the season took place a few weeks later, when he once again faced Cincinnati. That was a match plagued by aggressively bad refereeing and blown calls — the MLS Disciplinary Committee later fined Cincinnati defender Yerson Mosquera for simulation/embellishment – and the officiating crew all but delivered the win to Cincinnati. In that game, Freese made two saves and allowed three goals.
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Freese also started in the 1-1 road draw against the Portland Timbers on June 24. Freese finished the game with six saves and looked very composed, despite conceding a beautifully-struck goal from Evander.
Freese’s most recent start came last week, when New York City thumped Toronto FC by a score of 5-0 in the Leagues Cup Group Stage game. Freese had a relatively quiet night in goal, but did pick up one save and earned his first clean sheet of the season.
The most important aspect of a goalkeeper, of course, is their ability to save shots on goal. In his two starts in MLS this season, Freese has a save rate of 75%. It might be a small sample size, but those two games were challenging: One was the officiating fiasco against league-best Cincinnati, the other an away game against Portland Timbers. That 75% would place him in the upper tier of MLS, ahead of heavy hitters such as Cincinnati’s Roman Celentano and Seattle’s Stefan Frei and just behind former teammate Andre Blake.
That 75% save rate is in line with his performances over the years. In his four seasons with the Philadelphia Union, Freese had an average save rate of 77.8%. Freese is a goalkeeper who is consistent at saving shots on goal when called upon.
NYCFC likes to play out the back and it all starts with the goalkeeper. Freese likes to launch the ball forward more than Barraza, as 26.2 percent of his passes were launched more than 40 yards this season. Only 20.4 percent of Barraza’s passes were launched 40 yards or more. It is also evident with Freese’s goal kicks, as 60 percent of his goal kicks were launched more than 40 yards. Overall, Freese’s goal kicks average a length of 40.7 yards compared to Barraza’s 38.1 yards.
Although Freese does not pass short nearly as much as Barraza, he is better at launching the ball up the pitch. Numbers don’t lie: Freese is better at playing the high long ball to a New York City player.
Leading from the back
Another crucial aspect of a goalkeeper is their leadership. Sean Johnson might have been a statistically average goalkeeper by MLS standards when he played at NYCFC, but his leadership made him elite. The truth is that NYCFC have had trouble defending set pieces this season with Barraza in goal. Preparation in training might be partially to blame, but so is Barraza’s marshaling of the defense – or lack thereof.
You can see the on-field friction between Barraza and other NYCFC players. There was a shouting match between James Sands and Barraza in last week’s Leagues Cup match against Atlas FC that NYCFC lost when an untracked runner scored on a set piece. And there have been numerous brush-ups between NYCFC captain Maxime Chanot and Barraza. It’s not a good sign when two of NYCFC’s most consistent players, and arguably the team’s best performers this year, shout down the goalkeeper.
With Freese in goal against Toronto, the team has looked more organized and compact defensively. It might have been just one game against a dysfunctional Toronto that struggle to score, but Freese looked like he was in command. Toronto took three corners and never looked dangerous.
NYCFC will need that kind of composure in goal when they face New Jersey Red Bulls in the Leagues Cup Round of 32 matchup on Thursday.