MLS

Toronto FC's Frei can practice, but not cleared to play

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The Canadian Press
2/27/2013 4:50:28 PM
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TORONTO -- One fan is keen to buy it as a souvenir, others have suggested he do like hockey goalies and have it custom painted.

Stefan Frei would rather be without his "scary mask" altogether.

But Toronto FC's No. 1 goalkeeper knows the protective plastic facemask he's worn since breaking his nose two weeks ago is a necessary precaution.

"Obviously I would prefer to play without it. It's just a nose as I say," Frei said. "But if I carry this nose injury throughout this whole year that's probably not the best thing."

The 26-year-old Swiss 'keeper faced shots from coaches Wednesday at the team's practice facility north of downtown Toronto. He hasn't been cleared to practise with the team, and won't be in net when Toronto FC opens its Major League Soccer season Saturday in Vancouver.

The team's medical staff is playing it safe with Frei's surgically-repaired nose.

"It's Sod's law isn't it that the first time he gets back he's going to get one in the nose, first shot," said Toronto coach Ryan Nelsen. "We've got to make sure that big snout . . . can handle it."

Frei, a good bet to be Toronto FC's captain this season with the retirement of Torsten Frings, broke his nose in a face-versus-boot collision with Columbus Crew striker Ryan Finley in a pre-season game Feb. 9.

He had surgery in Orlando two days later.

His nose, a zig-zag two weeks ago, was straight Wednesday. That didn't prevent Toronto's new coach from firing a few verbal shots at the 'keeper.

"You've seen him, it's a pretty ugly looking nose, isn't it?" Nelsen said, laughing. "He needed all the help he could get (before breaking it), not something like this."

Frei can't practise with the team yet because it's an uncontrolled environment, and a hard shot to the face could be disastrous. But once he's been cleared to return to the squad, he feels he's be ready to step in net in a game.

"In a practice, you're facing about 200 or so shots in a game. A very busy game on frame, you'll probably face 18 shots. That's a very busy game. When I'm ready for the team, that will be a statement that I'm ready for games," Frei said.

"(For now) we want to let it heal a little bit... essentially if I do get a bad knock and it breaks, we have to put it back in place, that puts us back at Square 1. I'm sure I'll be pushing the medical staff to release me as early as possible, but at the same time I appreciate that they have my best interest in their minds."

Joe Bendik will start in net Saturday. The team also has a third goalie in former TFC Academy 'keeper Quillan Roberts.

"We're so lucky we've got three really good 'keepers," Nelsen said. "That's one position where we're really lucky, to tell you the truth."

Frei, whose injury was his first since last March when he injured his leg and ankle in training, wasn't thrilled with the officiating in the game in which he was hurt, saying he thought there were numerous hard fouls that weren't called, including the tackle that put him out of the game.

"(The referee) didn't really get the message out that in the end you have protect the players, and it came down to mine. (Finley) put his boot in, my face against his boot, obviously he's going to be the winner," Frei told reporters in Orlando. "It is what it is."

Frei said at least the nose isn't bothering him much anymore.

"I can blow my nose without pain. I know that sounds kind of crazy, but it's the little things, right?" he said. "It's good, I'm happy. I think it's getting stronger and stronger each day."

As for the mask, Twitter followers has asked to buy it, while others came up with the painting suggestion.

"Some crazy requests," he said.

Frei said he might paint it when he's done wearing it and then auction it off for charity.

Stefan Frei (Photo: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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