By: Michelle Mockler
Arguably the top goalkeeper America has ever produced, Kasey Keller hopes to finish this season strong with a spot in the playoffs alongside his team, with whom he has played with since 2009, the Seattle Founders. With his domestic as well international career both held in the highest regards, Keller gives us an inside look into where it all began, what his past accomplishments have meant to him, as well as his hopes for what the future will bring.
Q: How did you first begin playing soccer? Was there anyone in particular that influenced your decision to begin playing?
A: No, not really. My father was a sportsman. Also, I grew up in a family that played a lot of sports; it was a true kind of American Family. Driving around town, I would see kids playing soccer. I asked my mom one time if she could find me a team to play for. The first year I was on a team with some kids that I didn’t really know. The next year, when I had a little time, I got on a team with all my friends and it just took off from there.
Q: How difficult, if at all, was it to move back to the United States? And what influenced your decision to move back?
A: Well I had always planned on moving back. I had a great time in Europe. I was there for a lot longer than I had anticipated that I’d be there for. But it truly was an opportunity to come home and be part of something. I was close to maybe just moving home and retiring. Playing golf and skiing and doing whatever it was that I wanted to do. But I felt that I would get a little bit bored after awhile; being in my late thirties, early forties, and not knowing what to do. The opportunity to move back home to the northwest, to be a part of something as big as Seattle, and hopefully be a part of that for many years after I retire, was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Q: How does your reception from American fans differ from that of European fans?
A: There are a few things. The number one, I think a lot of U.S. fans are that of multiple sports, football, baseball, soccer, basketball fans, you [Americans] watch a lot of different sports. The majority of fans around the world are soccer first, foremost, and only. And so that has a little bit of added pressure to it. I think that the American fan isn’t quite, even though there are certain actions trying to bring the hooligan aspect into the country, which let’s all hope that doesn’t happen. But also it’s just a little bit friendlier atmosphere than in a lot of other situations around the world.
Q: Why do you think that the United States has been able to produce and export so many high quality goalkeepers, such as yourself, to Europe?
A: I think that probably the first reason is that unlike the other countries is that we grew up as American kids playing sports with our hands. I think that the transition from other sports into soccer was maybe easier for the goalkeeping side of it than for the field player side of it. Now it’s maybe not quite so prominent because the kids now are playing soccer from an early age and playing it all the way through and sometimes maybe they are just playing other sports for fun. I think that’s probably the main reason. Also, sometimes I think you just get a little bit lucky. You get in at certain times where you just have a group of goalkeepers at one time that seem to develop. I know that there was the time in the English premier league when there was four of us starting English premier league, there was three finished goalkeepers starting in the English premier league. I’m sure Finn was thinking why in hell do we have three guys at this time? It just happens like that sometimes.
Q: What kind of accomplishment was it to become the first American goalkeeper to become a regular in the German Bundesliga, the English Premier League, and the Spanish league?
A:I kind of hit all three of them which was pretty cool. To be able to be the first American to play in England on an U.S. passport, to be able to be the first American to play in the Spanish Liga, it’s nice, it’s always nice. Somebody has to be the first. So it’s cool that I was as well received in multiple countries and was able to do that. In Germany, I had a great time. At that time, at the end of my career, to be able to go to a club the size of Mönchengladbach, and to be captain and before the world cup in that country, it was just a very special time. So I am very proud to kind of be a pioneer for our sport, for our country in three of the top leagues in the world.
Q: How do you feel about being the overwhelming leader in the fan voted 2009 MLS All-Star game?
A: We have tremendous fans in Seattle. We have a group of people that were breaking all records in the MLS. And that’s a big reason. I think there was also a lot of anticipation for me for many years to be come home. I think the fans appreciated the effort that I put out in the game and I didn’t come home just on vacation, I came home to help my team win and help Seattle establish themselves as a top MLS franchise. And the fans, I think voted for that appreciation, and I am appreciative of that.
Q: If you got called up for the Gold Cup, Confederation’s cup or the World Cup qualifiers, would you accept the invitation? Why or why not?
A: I told Bob that although I’m more or less retired that if he needed me for a big game then I wouldn’t turn my country down. But if you want to talk about the day to day part of it, then yes I’m more or less, I’m finished. But if he’s in a bind and needed me to play a game, not a friendly somewhere in the middle of Uzbekistan, but if he needed me to play a qualifier or a Gold Cup or something then I would do it.
Q: You have had many standout achievements throughout your career. Those including CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2002, 2005 and 2007 with the United States, Football League Cup 1996-97 with Leicester City, Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup 2009 with Seattle Sounders FC, as well as individual accomplishments including Honda Player of the year 1999 and 2005 and finally, U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year 1997, 1999 and 2005.What has your most memorable career achievement and why?
A: I’ve been pretty fortunate throughout my career. There have been really cool situations in multiple places with different teams and the national team. From the Brazil game in the Gold Cup with the national team in ’98, to the 2000 World Cup against Italy, to winning a cup in England with Leicester City, surviving one of the biggest relegations fights in the history of the English premier league with Fulham, there have been a lot of fun things that I have been able to be a part of. And when you look at the first game for Seattle Founders, beating New York 3-0 at home was a great atmosphere, winning an open cup last year in DC. I’ve just been very fortunate throughout my career that I’ve been able to be a part of some big occasions.
Q: How would you evaluate your play so far this season both as an individual and as a team?
A: I gave up a couple bad goals that I’m not happy with but that’s just part of being a goalkeeper and you’re going to have those days. The team hasn’t been as consistent as we were last year which is also disappointing. I think what has been really cool is that when we needed to turn things around we have been able to do it. We went four, five games if only conceiting one goal. But the hardest part about anything in a team sport is to achieve individual success more or less comes with team success. I have had plenty of great games where I got my ass kicked 4-0, which doesn’t nearly have the same feeling as having a very good game and winning 1-0. So you have to always look at your individual performance and say what am I doing? Am I helping the team win? And more often than not, I will make mistakes, I have made mistakes, and if I continue to play I’ll make mistakes in the future. What you want to do it limit those as much as possible and at the same time be able to come up big for your team and help them pick up points. I think for the most part, in the two years I’ve been with Seattle, I’ve been very happy with that ratio.
Q: With recently having been undefeated in eight consecutive MLS matches until the game against Revolution, it seemed as if the team has been off to a great season with playoffs in mind. After making playoffs last year, what does the team focus on in hopes of going all the way?
A: Well we had a little bit of a problem in the middle of the season, giving up too many goals and not scoring enough. And so, what we did and got ourselves out of that hole by going on an eight game unbeaten run in the league. Now we have six games left to get ourselves in the playoffs. Were in the final playoff position right now by a few points and we need to maintain that. We still have the open cup final coming and if we can find a way to win that open cup and get ourselves in the playoffs I think that we’ll be very happy with the bluff we had in the middle of the season.
Q: Throughout your senior career you have played for the Portland Timbers, Millwall, Leicester City, Rayo Vallecano, Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton, Borussia Monchengladback, Fulham, your current team the Seattle Sounders FC, as well as the United States National team. Which teams and which experiences have you grown the most from?
A: Well I think the most I grew as a player really had to be my four years at Millwall. That where I learned to be a pro. That’s where I learned in a sense that combination between what I learned at the University of Portland, under Clive Charles, to prepare me to go to Millwall. Then to go to Millwall and to be able to have such early success for an American at a club like Millwall, truly set me up for the career that I have had both professionally and with a national team.
Q: Being a father of two, do your children watch your matches and hope to someday play soccer like their father?
A: They do watch my matches, more recently now than in the past. They use to always say, ‘oh my gosh, do we have to go to another game?’ So now they are starting to get into it a little bit more. My daughter is playing; my son is not playing at the moment. I just want my kids to do what they want to do. I want them to be happy and healthy and go from there.