Keller Looks to Make His Mark at Fourth FIFA World Cup
HAMBURG, Germany (June 5, 2006) – Kasey Keller isn’t ready to fall off the cliff quite yet.
The only player at the 2006 FIFA World Cup who was on his team’s roster in 1990, Keller was on the bench sixteen years ago in Italy when the U.S. opened a World Cup account that had been closed for 40 years.
At 36, this will be the fourth World Cup for Keller, who was left off the squad in 1994 but returned to the roster for the next two tournaments, playing in losses to Germany and Iran in France 1998.
Going into next week’s opener vs. the Czech Republic, he is by all accounts the first-choice goalkeeper for U.S. Manager Bruce Arena in goal.
“What Kasey is about, as you check his credentials over his career with the U.S. team, is winning,” Arena said. “We win more with Kasey in the goal than any goalie in our history.”
In fact, Keller’s career record of 51-23-16 (a .656 winning percentage) marks the most wins by a U.S. goalkeeper. His 45 shutouts are also a record.
“Making the big save, that is what Kasey is all about,” Arena said. “He makes plays that make a difference in games. He demonstrated through qualifying that even on our best days, Kasey had to come up with a save that made a difference in a game.”
Keller was a key part as the backstop for 10 of the team’s 12 World Cup qualifying wins, giving up just eight goals in 14 matches with eight shutouts. One year ago, the U.S. was in the middle of qualifiers at home vs. Costa Rica and on the road at Panama. In each game, Keller came up with big saves to keep things close before the U.S. went on to a pair of 3-0 victories.
“He always makes that one save that you just don’t think that someone is going to pull off,” said forward and long-time U.S. teammate Brian McBride. “He just seems to do that, and sometimes it’s when we aren’t really flowing and if we go down 1-0, it’s a big way to climb.”
Arena used Keller in exactly half of the qualifiers for the 2002 World Cup, and then started the Lacey, Wash., native in every game of the 2002 CONCACAF Gold Cup as the U.S. won the title allowing just one goal, and winning a penalty shootout in the semifinals.
When it came time to name a starter for the World Cup in Korea/Japan, however, another veteran, Brad Friedel, got the nod from Arena and started all five games of the USA’s memorable run to the quarterfinals.
“They are actually very similar,” defender Eddie Pope said of the two goalkeepers that battled for the No. 1 spot four years ago. “They come up with the big saves. They don’t give up the little things, and they always make you drop your jaw every now and then to make you say, ‘How did they save that?’”
Keller said that he was disappointed on a personal level about not getting a chance to play in 2002 and, after the World Cup that year, he talked with Arena about his future with the team.
“It was a private conversation between Bruce and I to see if I was going to step down or to continue on,” Keller said. “We cleared the air, and I’m still here. We got to a point where we could both move on and it’s been a good decision for both of us.”
Keller played a March 29, 2003, friendly in Seattle in his home state before returning to the fold for the 2003 Gold Cup, again starting all five games for the U.S. and wearing the captain’s armband in the third-place match.
With his focus internationally set on preparations for the 2006 World Cup, in the winter of 2005 Keller was forced to leave Tottenham after playing every minute for the club the previous two seasons. His soccer journey, which had already taken him to Milwall and Leicester City in England and Rayo Vallecano in Spain, sent him to Borussia Moenchengladbach in Germany, where he hoped to star for the U.S. this summer.
“I wanted to go someplace different,” Keller said. “I’d been in England a long time and I was looking for something that was motivational, where I could say it was a new experience where I could take my family and I could be playing against different teams and different players in different stadiums.
“With the World Cup being here, that was going to give me a little bit more motivation.”
Even facing this 37th birthday this fall after the World Cup, there is no indication that Keller will hang up his boots anytime soon. Keller is under contract with Moenchengladbach through June of 2007, but has indicated his interest in closing his career back in the U.S. His wife was one day away from looking for a house in Utah when he signed on in Germany and later settled in a 1,000-year-old castle outside of Dusseldorf.
“I don’t feel like I’ve lost (my quickness and agility),” Keller said. “I’ve known a lot of players and a lot of goalkeepers who have kept it for a long time, and then it just fell off the cliff. The level was really high and then just dropped tremendously, suddenly.
“I’m still waiting for that to happen, but - hopefully - I have a few more years in me before I fall off the cliff.”