When the ball kicks off tonight at 10:30 pm ET from CenturyLink Field it will mark the beginning of the end for Kasey Keller.
Keller is set to play his final home league match against the San Jose Earthquakes. In a testament to his legacy, over 60,000 tickets have been sold. The Seattle Sounders hope they will sell out the entire NFL stadium, something not accomplished (or even attempted) for a league match despite possessing the league’s largest and best fan base.
While it won’t technically be his last home game, the Sounders are guaranteed at least one home playoff game and have a home Champions League clash remaining, the fixture has long been marked to remember a man who could be argued as the greatest American goalkeeper of all time.
For someone who has done it all on and off the field lets take a look at the legend of one Kasey Keller.
Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Landon Donovan, Brian McBride. Aside from playing for the USA National Team what do these players have in common? Answer: They all have played the beautiful game in Europe. And each and every one of them owes a big thank you to Kasey Keller for paving a path.
The list of firsts that Keller accomplished in Europe is staggering.
When a youthful (22-year-old) Keller made the jump to Millwall in 1992 he became the first American to ever play in England with an American passport.
He was the first American to start a match in the English Premier League. When he transferred to Rayo Vallecano he was the first Yank to start in La Liga as well.
With Borussia Monchengladbach he became the second American to captain a team in the Bundesliga, following only fellow trendsetter Claudio Reyna.
Keller succeeded at his clubs too. At Millwall, where he had over 200 caps, he was beloved, being named the Fans Player of the Year in his debut season.
With Leicester City he helped them win a League Cup and had them in the upper echelon of the Premier League for several seasons.
After returning to the EPL with Tottenham he became one of the most feared goalies in England. After earning the starting spot he played every single minute for the Spurs in two consecutive seasons.
In Germany he was largely credited with saving Monchengladbach from relegation with his seven clean sheets during the second half of 2005. In similar fashion he shut out Porsmouth on the final day of the 2007-2008 season to help Fulham avoid relegation. It was a fitting way to end his career in Europe.
Perhaps also fitting was that Keller often came into the squad as the second choice, but always won the job by the end of his club tenure. His relentless pursuit of excellence helped his succeed for his club and allowed him to shine for his country.
You could stop right at Keller’s 102 career caps for the Red, White & Blue, a USA goalkeeping record, and say he had a great international career. But that would be doing him a disservice.
If it wasn’t for the presence of Brad Friedel the number would have been exponentially higher.
Still, Keller was on four World Cup rosters (and was inexplicably left off the 1994 squad) and was the starter for two of them.
Though those Cups both saw the USA exit in the first round, Kasey was the man between the sticks for USA’s most famous win.
In 1998 the US beat Brazil 1-0. Keller posted 10 saves, many of them far from routine. The praise couldn’t have come from a higher source, the Brazilian legend Romario himself.
All he said was “That was the greatest game from a goalkeeper that I have ever seen.”
Kasey also started three Olympic matches for the US and won a Gold Cup in 2005 when he saved two shots in the penalty shootout.
Kasey Keller arrived as the goalie and captain for the expansion Seattle Sounders in 2009. Because of their high success it is forgotten that not much was expected out of the Rave Green in their debut season. Keller helped ensure the team would not only compete, but excel.
The Sounders ended up 3rd in a tough Western Conference and lost in overtime to the Houston Dynamo in the playoff quarter-finals. 2009 also saw the Sounders lift their first trophy, the US Open Cup.
It was the second most successful season in history by an MLS expansion side (Chicago Fire being number one) and a lot of credit has to be given to Keller. The Washington State native came back to his hometown and his work ethic and leadership has worn off on a young side that has come together more each and every year.
Keller has three US Open Cups to his name in as many years, two playoff appearances with a third coming, and helped his team through to the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals this season.
Sounders fans love Kasey, he gets his own (profane) chant before every match. And this is perhaps Kasey’s greatest attribute, his impact in the community.
Off the Field
Kasey is the gift that keeps on giving. I have a personal, very fond, memory of Keller.
It stems from the USA-England game in the 2010 World Cup. Over 600 people crammed inside Doyle’s Pub to watch the opener for the American’s. And who showed up? Keller himself.
Keller stayed for the match, talking some good-natured trash about the Brits before the match. He sat right with the fans for the whole thing, signing countless autographs, taking pictures, and clearly enjoying the atmosphere. You could tell he wanted to be there. He was not there as a PR stunt.
This has been the case for his whole career. Beloved at every club he was been to, Kasey does wonders for the community.
The Sounders as a team are very generous (thanks Nate Jaqua for your game-used jersey and for the countless autographs) and I believe this is partially due to the example set by captain Kasey.
Though he will retire from playing after the year it is widely expected he will become an ambassador of some sort for the MLS and for the continued spread of soccer in America. I can’t think of anyone better.
So here is to you Kasey Keller. A great goalie. A patriot. A hometown hero. And an all around good guy. May the 60,000+ who scream and chant your name tonight remember all that you have done for us for so long.