Sounders FC

McGrath: Keller makes no excuses for Sounders

Defenders lost concentration, strikers went timid, and as the lovely spring day devolved into the most lopsided home defeat in the 14-month history of Seattle Sounders FC, coach Sigi Schmidt saw a lot of his guys “phoning it in.”

But when Schmid had a chance to dwell on the play that turned things south during the Sounders’ 4-0 defeat Saturday at Qwest Field, he respectfully declined.

He couldn’t rip goalkeeper Kasey Keller, whose failure to stop a routine shot in the 22nd minute set the tone for the slopfest that followed.

“I’m not going to throw anything at Keller, because he’s saved us numerous times,” Schmid said during a 10-minute postgame press conference much more lively than the 90 minutes he got from his team.

“Sometimes that happens,” was how Schmid explained Jovan Kirovski’s goal off the kind of kick Keller has batted away, oh, 10,000 times during a stellar career as the most accomplished American-born goalkeeper on the world soccer stage.

Keller got to the ball and appeared in position to reject the shot, only to watch it glance off his hands and into the net.

Although Schmid declined to point a finger at the Sounders goalkeeper, the goalkeeper himself wasn’t as forgiving.

“Unfortunately, I made a mistake and we didn’t recover from it,” Keller said in a somber locker room. “It’s one of the fun parts about goalkeeping: Some days you hold your hand up and say, ‘Sorry about that.’

“It swirled on me,” Keller continued. “But the ball swirls every time it comes at you, so that’s no excuse. I didn’t react in time. It’s as simple as that.”

Keller, a North Thurston High School graduate, is 40. Unlike Ken Griffey Jr., another Seattle sports legend who was born in November of 1969 – Griffey is eight days older – Keller isn’t contemplating the end of the road as a pro athlete.

He’s started each of the eight Sounders games this season, posting shutouts against Philadelphia (in the opener March 25) and three weeks later against Kansas City.

A year ago, after the Sounders identified the former Premier League standout to be the signature acquisition of the expansion franchise, Keller’s goals-against average – 0.92 – ranked second in the league. He started the All-Star Game and was named a finalist for MLS goalkeeper of the year.

With a high-profile role on a team that continues to draw crowds that nobody fathomed when the franchise was awarded – 36,273 fans showed up Saturday, a Sounders’ record for an MLS match – retirement for Keller figures to be years away. But bad days are an occupational hazard.

“One year in the Premier League,” Keller said, “Man U lost 6-1 and 5-0 in back-to-back games. They ended up winning the title. This is not the end of the world.

“We let the fans down, we let ourselves down. Losing like this at home is never fun. Hopefully, we can get better from it.”

As for Schmid’s displeasure with the Sounders’ performance, the coach was less frustrated about the execution than the effort after the Galaxy put the game away on Omar Gonzalez’s header goal in the 52nd minute.

“You’ve got to show a little bit of character and say, ‘If we’re going to lose, we’re going to go down swinging.’ Some guys did, and some hung up the phone,” said Schmid, who suggested some changes were imminent with the starting lineup.

One change that won’t be made is in goal. Though Keller gave up four more goals in one afternoon against the Galaxy than he gave up during the first 457 minutes of his MLS career, he’s a fixture who’ll be counted on to fix a season that’s still salvageable.

“Either we go into a shell or we wake up and get better,” Keller said. “There are some good characters on this team, and I can’t see any reason we can’t bounce back and get better.”

If the Sounders are unable to bounce back, it won’t be because their goalkeeper isn’t willing to hold himself accountable.

Much went wrong Saturday, and the team’s oldest player knows the breakdown began with him.

“Like I said, I can only hold my hand up,” Keller said, “and apologize.”

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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