Kasey Keller makes it clear that this is not going to be some kind of rocking-chair, retirement tour of a season.
You can see it in Seattle Sounders practices, in those dozens of times he throws his 41-year-old body horizontal to go after shots on goal. Sometimes he pops back to his feet to dive in the opposite direction for the next save, going at it as if a World Cup were at stake.
And you can hear it – emphatically – when you ask him to outline his approach to his final season. He will interrupt before you can get through the premise that he might be inclined to reflect on the finality of it, or to take moments to absorb the warmth of a career sunset.
“No, it’s exactly the same; I want to treat every game like I have my whole career,” Keller said Sunday after preparations for Tuesday’s MLS opener against the L.A. Galaxy at Qwest Field. “There’s nothing different because this is my last season. That has nothing to do with it.
“The season isn’t about me, the season is about the Sounders continuing to get better as a club and go and fight for everything we possibly can.”
That he has played most of two decades in the world’s top soccer leagues but is still so driven is an example of the kind of zeal that made him a pioneer – an American goalkeeper at the highest levels when such things did not exist.
“Obviously, in goal, he’s one of the icons of American soccer, for sure,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “What he did and what he established in terms of going to Europe at a very young age and (continuing) to play overseas a long time, with World Cup experience Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller are the premier goalkeepers the U.S. has ever produced.”
Sixteen seasons in the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, and Germany’s Bundesliga fattened the bank account, but he earned his stripes here by making four U.S. World Cup rosters and being named U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year an unprecedented three times (1997, 1999 and 2005).
Not bad for a kid from Lacey and North Thurston High.
But his public profile even in his home region was modest until the MLS expanded to Seattle, and Keller came home in 2009.
“It’s really been an unbelievable experience for the end of my career,” Keller said. “For many, many years, people would ask me, ‘Are you going to come home?’ And I was like, ‘What is home? Where am I coming home to?’ ”
It all fit into place when the Sounders were formed.
“To think that everything could align the way it did,” he said, “ to be able to come back and be a part of it from the very beginning, and the way the whole city has embraced the team from Day One and it just continues to get bigger and bigger and bigger you couldn’t have written the script any better.”
But Keller made it work. He was not here to be a local draw, a recognizable name on a jersey. He has started 59 consecutive games, opening his MLS career with a record 457 shutout minutes.
“Having Kasey here has been a tremendous backbone for our team and our organization as well,” Schmid said.
Keller attributes his longevity to “a little bit of luck, a little bit of hard work.”
Mostly, he said, it’s a matter of still enjoying the game, the training, the teammates, the competition.
So why retire?
“I think it was time because I feel that I can play at a level I want to play at,” he said. “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh, God, what am I doing out here?’ I want to finish knowing I can still play.”
He fends attempts to get him to assess his legacy, saying the time for that will be after the season.
“For myself, the personal side of it is just getting ready to play the way I want to play to help the team,” he said. “Yes, I’ll make mistakes this year like everybody else, but at the same time, can I help make a difference for the team to win games? That’s where I’m going to truly judge myself every time I step on the field.”
It’s that attitude and approach that has made him the iconic player he is. And whoever is called upon to replace Kasey Keller is going to have some big gloves to fill.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440