Before Kasey Keller decided to announce Friday that he’s returning for one last season as the goalkeeper for Seattle Sounders FC, he had to determine the answer to one question.
Could he, at age 41, still play effectively?
“I don’t want to be that guy that everybody said, ‘You really should have retired last year,’ ” Keller said. “I didn’t want to continue if I couldn’t do it. Once I really felt comfortable that I could really do it, then it was a brief conversation with the team.”
Keller, who spent 17 years playing soccer in Europe before moving to Seattle, will finish a remarkable playing career with the Sounders. In August 2008, he signed with the Sounders eight months before the team’s first game and has missed only one game in two seasons.
“He’s really become the face of our franchise,” said general manager and part-owner Adrian Hanauer. “Certainly, he’s the most recognized player on the team and one of the most recognized American soccer players of all time. It’s an amazing asset for us to have as we build this franchise and try to build locally and build globally. Kasey has been such a valuable asset on the field and off the field.”
Keller’s remarkable career began as an All-America goalkeeper at North Thurston High School in Lacey while he grew up on an egg farm.
In 2010, Keller had 11 shutouts, 82 saves and a 1.15 goals-against averaged, earning his second spot on the MLS All-Star team and helping the Sounders finish 14-10-5. He’s convinced he’s got more left in the tank.
“The way I feel physically, the way I feel mentally, I see no reason why I can’t continue on for one more season,” Keller said. “And to be able to go out on my terms is something that I wanted to do.”
He said he didn’t want to be told to retire.
“I didn’t want to be told, ‘Sorry Kasey, you’re just not good enough anymore,’ ” Keller said. “I want to be able to say that this is my final year and I’m going to enjoy myself.”
Keller got the affirmation about returning for one last season from his position coach and longtime friend, Tom Dutra.
“There’s no drop off in his play,” Dutra said. “I told him he’s still sharp. He had an unbelievable run late in the season.”
Keller had seven shutouts in a span of 11 games, helping the Sounders turn their season around and reach the playoffs after a 4-6-3 start.
“I’ve never been around a guy who is as mentally strong as Kasey,” Dutra said. “I’m happy he’s coming back.”
Keller credits two things to his longevity in soccer – conditioning and good living.
“So many players who come to this league later in their career feel they can come in and just coast,” Keller said. “They just sit back and say, ‘Hey, I’m so-and-so. You should just let me do what I want to do.’ I just don’t believe in that. I wanted to set a good example.”
Keller has a reputation for being one of the team’s hardest workers. He’s missed only a few practices.
“Kasey still brings it,” Dutra said. “I’ve tried to pull him out of stuff. He wants to take the exercise.”
Keller is a three-time U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year and is one of just two Americans to play in four World Cups. But of all the awards Keller has earned, he said his proudest achievement is that he’s played more minutes than any other player in the MLS the past two seasons.
“I’m not coasting because I can or because my name allows me to,” Keller said. “I don’t care how old you are. You get out there and work hard every day.”