Kasey Keller has made a career out of putting soccer fans in the seats.
The Olympia-born goalkeeping legend was at it again Friday in Pasco, attracting more than 400 fans to the TRAC Atrium at a fundraiser for the Tri-Cities Youth Soccer Association.
The fans in attendance got a chance to take a photo with Keller, get an autograph or chat about his 22-year professional career, which included a final stop with the Seattle Sounders from 2009-11.
There were even a few young goalkeepers in the crowd, who were thrilled by the opportunity to see Keller close up.
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“I’m going to get him to sign my gloves for me,” said Garrett Paxton, a 15-year-old Kennewick native and Three Rivers Soccer Club goalkeeper who was decked out in a Seattle Sounders’ jersey. “It’s really cool he can do this. I bet he’s super busy.”
Alyssa Humphrey, an 11-year-old Kennewick native, was there with her younger sister, 6-year-old McKenna Humphrey, and family friend Jaylee Kelley, 7. Alyssa, also a keeper for her Three Rivers club team, had seen Keller play last season at his final home game in Seattle in October 2011, a memorable 2-1 win over San Jose.
“I’m really excited to meet him. I brought my shirt for him to sign,” she said.
Keller starred at North Thurston High School and the University of Portland before moving on to a glory-filled career that included four FIFA World Cups with the United States National Team and playing stints with several elite European teams. He was the first U.S. keeper to play in the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga and the Spanish La Liga.
But the 43-year-old family man (he and his wife, Kristen, have two children) is happy with his latest career developments in broadcasting. He works with the Sounders as a color commentator and also with ESPN during U.S. National team games.
“Moving to the broadcasting side has been one of the most seamless transitions I could have asked for,” Keller said. “I’m able to do a lot of things I wasn’t able to do — snowboarding, motorcycles and everything else I’m enjoying — and at the same time still traveling and staying in the game. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Keller said he gets asked all the time if he misses playing the game.
“No, I was ready to retire. If I missed it, I’d have kept playing,” he said. “I always wanted to retire while people were still asking me to play. I wanted to finish on my own terms and on a level that wasn’t just playing on my name.”
Retirement has given Keller a chance to catch up on life with his family and enjoy his time around the Pacific Northwest, the place he’s always considered his home base.
“In September, I went fishing in Alaska with my dad, and I was hunting in South Dakota recently at my wife’s aunt’s ranch,” he said. “I now have a KTM trail bike and a Honda CRF motocross bike for the track. I did a fun little thing with K2 (a snowboarding apparel company), where I was a sponsored rider before I ever snowboarded in my life.
“I’m making up for lost time.”
On a national level, Keller has established himself as one of the top soccer players in U.S. history. His 102 caps (appearances) with the U.S. National Team is tops for any U.S. goalkeeper and ninth all-time. He was named the U.S. National Soccer Athlete of the year in 1997, 1999 and 2005 as well as the Major League Soccer keeper of the year in 2011.
It’s impossible to deny the impact Keller has had on soccer in Washington. Drive a half-mile south of North Thurston High School and you hit Kasey Keller Drive. And he’s bound to get recognized just about anywhere.
“We were skiing at Mt. Baker, and there’s a nasty little approach coming down the mountain. This car was stuck in a snowbank, and as we drove by I saw he had a Sounders hat on,” Keller said. “I rolled down the window and said, ‘Well, at least you have your Sounders hat on.’
“He looked over and was like, oh my God.”
Above all, he’s proud of the impact he’s had on the Sounders’ franchise, which joined the MLS as an expansion team in 2007 and hit the ground running. With Keller’s help, it is one of the most successful soccer teams in the world.
“In a meeting last night with (Sounders) ownership, they said the Sounders are the 26th-highest attended team in the world. That really is a huge statement for the MLS,” Keller said. “I always felt coming home was going to mean something. I knew there was a population in Seattle that would embrace what we were all hoping it would become.
“I’m proud to be a part of that.”