Andrew Thomas making the most of his opportunities in Seattle

For the first four games of the MLS season, the Seattle Sounders have been without their longtime goalkeeper Stefan Frei. His backup, Andrew Thomas, made the most of his starting opportunities

Feb 24, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Seattle Sounders FC goalkeeper Andrew Thomas (26) makes
Feb 24, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Seattle Sounders FC goalkeeper Andrew Thomas (26) makes / Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

For as long as Seattle Sounders FC fans can remember, there has always been Stefan Frei in goal. The longtime Sounders starter came to the club in 2014 and has been the undisputed starter ever since.

However, Frei is susceptible to injuries, just like every athlete. At the start of the 2024 MLS season, Seattle saw a new face in goal: Andrew Thomas, the 25-year-old goalkeeper from England. Thomas has been with the club since 2021. However, it was on Feb. 24, 2024, that he made his MLS debut.

Frei has since returned from injury, but Thomas gained what he called 'invaluable" experience in between the sticks for three MLS games — technically, the number is four, but a March 9 contest against the Philadelphia Union was rained out after just five minutes. MLS Multiplex spoke with Thomas after the delay about his three starts.

“It’s been fantastic. It’s been something I’ve been dreaming about for a number of years," Thomas said to MLS Multiplex. "I’ve been with the club since 2021 or so. I’ve driven past Lumen, sat in the stands for a bunch of games, been on the bench. So, to have the opportunity to be playing is incredibly fulfilling. The results haven’t been the way I’ve wanted so far, but I’m proud and enjoying every moment.” 

Thomas recorded six saves against LAFC in the club's opener down in Los Angeles. He played against French international — and World Cup-winning goalkeeper — Hugo Lloris. In Austin, he made one save in a scoreless draw, earning his first-ever MLS clean sheet. Against Philadelphia, he got rained on for five minutes (and counting, considering pre-game warmups). His last start was against the Colorado Rapids, where he made a whopping seven saves.

After the game, Sounders manager Brian Schmetzer said that Thomas has been improving with each start.

"We asked him to keep us in games. I can't fault him for the goals he took against LAFC, and I can't fault him for the goal he took today," Schmetzer said after the Rapids match. "He saved a penalty, saved a free kick and was in control of his box. I think the kid has been good."

Thomas has been waiting for this moment for three years now. In his first season with the club, he primarily, as he mentioned, watched matches from the stands while Stefan Frei and former Sounders goalkeeper (now with Austin FC) Stefan Cleveland competed. In 2022, Thomas suffered multiple back injuries — a major set-back for a developing goalkeeper.

"It’s never easy. I felt like I was getting my feet underneath me, both times, then the injuries sent me back developmentally," Thomas shared. "I’m very grateful that those haven’t really been factoring into my soccer the last year and a half, or so. That’s thanks to the training staff here, but also thankful for the front office and coaches for believing in me through those injuries. I had been out since August, and they picked up my option.

"I want to repay that debt of the trust that they put in me," he continued. "I feel good. My body feels great. I feel as strong as I probably ever had. I’m just enjoying playing.”

In 2023, he trained with the Sounders and got minutes with the MLS NEXT Pro affiliate side, Tacoma Defiance.

“You can’t replace minutes, especially as a goalkeeper," he said. "Seeing the field from the position that you’re in is so hard to replicate in a training session. Getting minutes with Tacoma was invaluable. I had to take on a slightly different role than I did here. It was more of a leadership character on that team. That’s something that I want to try to bring into this group whenever I'm starting."

Toward the latter half of the 2023 season, he went on loan to get what he called eight competitive games, plus a playoff game, with USL side New Mexico United.

"Moving on to New Mexico was awesome to play in competitive USL minutes," Thomas said. "We were in a playoff scrap at the time. I got eight high-pressure games, plus the playoff game. It was a different style than I dealt with in Tacoma, and a different intensity. I played in front of 15,000 fans in a USL playoff game, as opposed to Sunday nights at Starfire, which are fantastic, but from an intensity perspective it isn’t quite the same. Those are invaluable... LAFC had about 20,000 people at home, so it was a completely different vibe. New Mexico helped to prepare me for that.”

Thomas said that, during the end of the season, he and former Sounders backup Stefan Cleveland — good, close friends — knew that one would be moving on. Thomas said that, professionally, he hoped that he would stick around in Seattle. He got his wish.

"Cleve and I were very close. Him and I spent a lot of time together," Thomas stated. "We had the understanding toward the end of the year that one of us would be moving on. I was hoping, professionally, that it was going to be me sticking around. I’m delighted the club put that much trust in me to do the job. I’m hoping to reward that decision on their part, and fulfill that role.” 

One of the reasons why Thomas was hoping to stay was Sounders goalkeepers coach Tom Dutra. The 51-year-old has been with the club since the Sounders entered MLS in 2009. He is touted as one of the best goalkeeper coaches in the country.

"He’s so much of the reason I wanted to come to Seattle in the first place," Thomas explained. "As far as developing goalkeepers go, he’s second to none. Not a huge amount changes, going from the role I was in to playing a few more games. The expectations are the same, the standard is the same, the quality of the sessions are the same. It’s do what you're doing in the training session, but this time on the field. I don’t think our relationship has changed. He treats everyone as if they’re going to be in that role on the weekend. Whoever’s name is on the team sheet is the one who plays, but that doesn’t change how training goes. I really appreciate working with him day in and day out.” 

Of course, Thomas relied on the mentorship of another club legend: Frei.

"He’s the legend of this club. It’s been really special being in the role he fills every single week," Thomas said back in March. "He’s a mentor for me, in training, especially, but in this period where I’m playing, too. He has all the insight against people he’s been playing, God knows how many times at this point. That kind of mentorship is heightened right now, but that’s always the case. He’s a guy who tries to help out everyone at the club. That speaks volumes about the kind of character that he is.”

Thomas has been backing up Frei in recent weeks, due to Frei's return from injury. But, the Sounders are now aware that their backup goalkeeper is ready in any scenario or in a pinch. The Sounders knew they could rely on Thomas — that's why they brought him back, after all — but that belief was cemented with his three performances.

“They have the same expectations of me that they do with Frei... I’m there to do my role. I’ve been in training with everyone for the last few years, so they know me, and I know them. The chemistry is all there. There isn’t any lower expectations. I’m there to play, to help the team win and they support me on the field, and vice versa.” 

The Sounders are in a dry spell right now, still looking for their first win of the 2024 season. Right now, the Sounders are on a two-game losing streak, dropping matches against San Jose and the LA Galaxy. Next up is a home clash against CF Montréal on Saturday, April 6, at 10:30 PM ET / 7:30 PM PT.