Key Stats: 98th Percentile, 95th Percentile, 92nd Percentile – that’s where Freese ranks in the last 365 days among goalkeepers who have played at least 900 minutes across what FBref.com defines as the Men’s Next 14 competitions, due to, respectively, his 83.8% save percentage, 50% clean sheet percentage, and 0.80 goals allowed/per 90 minutes.
Matt Freese was one of the few individual bright spots from a forgettable 2023 New York City FC season.
Freese enters 2024 with a contract extension in hand and a firm grip on the first-choice goalkeeper role, and will look to prove his eight-start run of dominance at the end of the 2023 season wasn’t a fluke.
Goal prevention was a New York City team strength last season, and Freese’s emergence as the team’s starting goalkeeper played a part in that. Now Freese, a player NYCFC traded for and committed to through at least 2026, is tasked with maintaining that level of solidity and shot-stopping ability over a full season.
What went right in 2023
By the end of the season, Freese was entrenched as the top NYCFC goalkeeper. He started NYCFC’s final eight matches and was almost otherworldly, producing five clean sheets while posting an elite 83.8% save percentage.
The stats and the eye test agreed: Freese was a force between the sticks for NYCFC at the end of the season. He made some highlight-reel saves to preserve clean sheets and points, like when he denied what could have been a suckerpunch of a late winning goal from the Red Bulls during what ended up being the first-ever goalless draw in the history of the Hudson River Derby.
Matt Freese statistically outperformed Luis Barraza universally in 2023, albeit in a much smaller sample size, as Barraza made 25 appearances in all 2023 competitions, nearly doubling Freese’s 13 total appearances.
Much still to prove in 2024
Freese kept the bulk of his clean sheets against Toronto FC (twice), CF Montréal, and Chicago Fire FC, all three placing among the five lowest-scoring clubs in the MLS Eastern Conference in 2023. Yes he also blanked Orlando City SC, who finished with the sixth-most goals scored in 2023 in the Eastern Conference, but there remains some proving to be done by New York City’s new No 1 keeper.
NYCFC played its best in 2023 once Freese was installed in net and when he had Thiago Martins and Birk Risa paired at center back directly in front of him. Now that group, along with fellow defenders like Tayvon Gray and Kevin O’Toole, will try to recreate that success over a full 34-match regular season.
Freese has never started more than 17 matches in a season during his professional career, so how will he adjust to the expectations of starting and marshaling the NYCFC defense over the course of a full season? Freese served as a backup to Andre Blake of the Philadelphia Union for numerous seasons, and enters 2024 in not too different of a position as how Luis Barraza entered the 2023 season—looking to cement his status as a starter-caliber MLS goalkeeper.
What to expect next season
The NYCFC goalkeeper position has undergone something of a shakeup this offseason—long-time third keeper Cody Mizell has left to become the DC United goalkeepers coach, and academy player Alex Rando was signed to a Homegrown contract presumably to slide into Mizell’s role as the club’s third-choice keeper.
Now Matt Freese is the top dog in the ‘keeper group, though the club and head coach Nick Cushing continue to refuse to anoint him as their no-doubt starter in that position. Freese was relatively mistake-free during his first year in New York City’s colors, and two of the four defeats he suffered in 2023 came at the hands of eventual Supporters’ Shield winners FC Cincinnati, who swept NYCFC across all their 2023 meetings.
He looks capable of carrying on the success he enjoyed late in 2023, assuming the NYCFC defense in front of him can also carry over its consistency from a season ago.
It’s hard to see Freese continuing to put up clean sheets in half of his appearances, or see him maintaining an 83.8% save percentage, which would be at the top of the MLS goalkeeper leaderboards in almost all seasons. His 2023 MLS regular season numbers were extremely similar to those of Seattle Sounders FC starting keeper Stefan Frei, but it is now on Freese if he can establish himself as that same level of MLS goalkeeper.