Safe hands: Allstate had nothing on Kasey Keller when he was in the U.S. National Team goal (AP Photo).
One of the greatest performances of Kasey Keller’s outstanding goalkeeping career came before just 12,298 fans in February 1998 at the cavernous Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
And I was there, as a fan, in the stands.
I remember being amazed that so few people showed up to watch Romario and the the rest of the Brazilian team as I walked around the virtually empty stadium.
Even more amazing though was Keller’s game-winning performance.
Preki may have come on a as a sub to score one of his trademark screaming winners from outside the box, but he wouldn’t have had that opportunity without Keller making almost a dozen saves including three efforts from Romario that left the Brazilian shaking his head.
If I recall the Brazilian called it the greatest goalkeeping performances he had ever seen in person and I too felt privileged to witness it – and agree.
Now Seattle will pay tribute to Keller Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes in front of what should be on of the largest crowds to witness an MLS game ever (7:30 p.m. Fox Soccer).
Fortunately for us in Southern California we have perhaps two more chances to see Keller in person before he calls time on his career – when the Sounders play Chivas USA Oct. 22 at Home Depot Center in the Goats’ regular season finale and a possible playoff game against the Galaxy.
I don’t think Keller was given his due by European coaches and he should have had the opportunity to play for bigger clubs in bigger competitions.
For my money, the world-class Keller was the closest any American player came to challenging Landon Donovan for the title of best U.S. player ever and without him in the net the U.S. would never have pulled off some of the results it did under the likes of Bruce Arena and Steve Sampson.
Associated Press Sports Writer Tim Booth has more on Keller’s career and the game:
TUKWILA, Wash. (AP) — Kasey Keller’s ready to go, ready to spend weekends on the golf course or, on the occasional hot day in the Pacific Northwest, water skiing around Lake Washington.
Or even something more simple, like a Friday night dinner out with family and friends without the worry of a game the next day.
Those hours of sitting around and making sure his mind is singularly focused on the 90 minutes in which Keller must be the best player on the pitch have been wearing after two decades of being in the argument about the greatest American goalkeeper of all time.
So it comes without hesitation that Keller is reaffirming this is it, that when the Seattle
Sounders FC season ends sometime in November — whether it’s following another early Seattle playoff exit or after an MLS Cup title — so too does his storied career.
The buildup to the conclusion begins on Saturday night when Seattle plays its final regular season home game against San Jose and Keller gets feted by a crowd that’ll likely top 60,000, most there to honor Keller’s lengthy career.
“I’m not too worried about the emotional side of stuff. I think that’s one of the things
that’s been cool about this year is I’ve known this the whole time,” Keller said. “You always think you have a long way to go and now it’s getting close, but if I felt I wanted to keep playing I would have kept playing. … I look around and see how many guys are playing at a level at soon-to-be 42. Not many, if any, so you can’t keep pushing it. You know at some stage you’re going to fall off that cliff.”
It’s a testament to Keller’s performance in his final year that questions are still being
asked about whether he’s at all reconsidering a retirement that was first announced nearly a year ago. He leads the MLS in victories with 16, is fourth in saves and, among keepers with at least 20 games this season, is tops in save percentage and second in goals against average.
No matter what happens in Seattle’s final two league matches, it’s the most successful regular season in the Sounders’ three years.
And that’s just what Keller’s done in MLS play. He helped Seattle win a third straight U.S.
Open Cup title by pitching shutouts in the semifinals and championship match, and pitched in with victories in the CONCACAF Champions League to help Seattle advance from group stage with one game remaining.
It’s all added up. Another 39 games total this season with a handful more to come, on top of a career that’s already spanned roughly 700 matches before this season began. The career clicker started nearly 20 years ago when Keller became the first American player to play in England on a U.S. passport after joining Millwall.
He was the first American keeper to start in the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga and just the second American to captain a club in Germany’s Bundesliga, in a career that featured stops at Leicester City, Tottenham and Fulham in England; Rayo Vallecano in Spain; and Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany.
And all that time playing for some of the top clubs in Europe doesn’t delve into his 102 caps for the U.S national team and a trio of World Cups.
But exerting himself for one final year — and a third season overall — in Seattle was worth it for Keller. He got to witness the resurrection of the Cascadia rivalry with Portland and Vancouver at the highest level of soccer in North America and helped claim the Cascadia Cup with victories on the road in Vancouver and Portland.
He helped Seattle become the first club in more than 40 years to win three straight Open Cup titles.
And he’ll enter retirement still considered one of the top goalkeepers in America.
His longevity still stuns those he’s around.
“I was watching him (Wednesday) warming up and I said to one of the assistants, ‘Can you imagine doing that for 25 years?’” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “Falling over like that for 25 years and getting up again and doing it every day and saying, ‘This is fun.’ To me, that’s absolutely amazing and I think it’s been great what he’s done.”
Keller will be honored on Saturday night against San Jose before the largest crowd for an MLS game in Seattle’s brief history and possibly just the seventh regular season crowd in league history to top 60,000. The entire upper bowl of CenturyLink Field is being opened for Saturday’s match, and as of midweek more than 59,000 tickets had already been sold.
Asked if he’s even been honored by a throng that large, Keller chuckled.
“I’m very proud and humbled by the way the response has been from Day 1,” Keller said.
The Sounders are keeping the celebration muted until after Saturday’s match is complete. This won’t be his final appearance at home — the Sounders are guaranteed of at least one home playoff match — but this is the opportunity to honor Keller.
The massive crowd is partly due to a ticket promotion from earlier in the year that included games against New York and Seattle’s lone exhibition against Manchester United. But roughly 14,000 additional seats were sold beyond the ticket promotion specifically for Keller’s regular season home finale.
At whatever point of the playoffs Keller’s career ends, he won’t be removed from the game for long. He still mentions everything from commentary to coaching as potential future options. No matter the avenue, he’ll remain connected, even if he’s no longer in net.
“What I will miss is the feeling after a good result,” Keller said. “Because before, it’s all
a pain … during, it’s even worse as a goalkeeper. It’s when it’s over and you’ve helped your team be successful, that is the feeling that I’m going to miss. Everything else in between there, no.”