Seattle keeper Kasey Keller chats about coming home, future of MLS
Boisterous crowds, powerful ownership have turned Seattle into an MLS hotbed
Iconic goalie Kasey Keller chats about the Sounders' success and expectations
He also discusses the future of MLS in America and what the league owes players
SEATTLE -- Bottom line: If you're a soccer fan living in America, you're doing yourself a great disservice if you don't make an attempt to take in a Seattle Sounders FC game. The overwhelming fan support, the sold-out crowds, the insane noise level inside Qwest Field -- it's enough to bring a tear to one's eye, as it did for MLS commissioner Don Garber.
Most affiliated with Major League Soccer expected a successful beginning for an expansion team with this kind of powerful ownership structure (many thanks, Seattle Seahawks) playing in the Emerald City. But few could have guessed the avalanche of noisy crowds the Sounders are getting in what has turned into perhaps the greatest homefield advantage in MLS history.
Count iconic goalkeeper Kasey Keller among the shocked -- and that's saying a lot. During a hugely successful 17-year career in England, Spain and Germany, Keller played in front of some of the loudest, most feverish crowds in the game. He always wanted to end his storied career -- which includes four World Cup appearances with the U.S. national team -- back in his home state of Washington. But never in his wildest dreams did he think Seattle conceivably could be the best market in MLS.
The Sounders are a surprising 4-2-0 just six weeks into the season and are in second place in the Western Conference. Perhaps even more impressively, they've only allowed three goals, and zero with their captain tending net.
SI.com caught up with the 39-year-old legend shortly after the Sounders' 2-0 victory over San Jose here this past Saturday, a game in which, by the way, Keller set a record by playing 389 consecutive minutes without conceding a goal to start a season. One of the best-spoken and most intelligent athletes you'll ever come across, he discussed his expectations for Seattle and had some strong words on what he believes U.S. national-team players deserve from MLS.
SI.com: Did you ever expect the support to be like this?
Keller: No. I knew that Seattle should have had an MLS team years ago. I knew there was a fan base here. But at no time did I ever think we're going to have 28,000 sold out or that we'd win our first three games without conceding a goal. It's our dream start. To be able to come home and finish my career in this atmosphere has been huge. Nothing would have been worse after experiencing the things I've experienced all over Europe and then to come home and hear crickets at games. This has been phenomenal. It very much reminds me of that European environment.
SI.com: After seeing this, are you sort of wondering what took MLS this long to get here?
Keller: Totally. At the same time, there's no good in hurrying something up just because you want to stick it in there. Timing could not have been better for this franchise. With the Sonics leaving, it left some openings in talk radio and in local TV sports coverage. Once they were able to see it was going to be done the right way, you had radio franchises bidding for the rights. In other cities, you couldn't give it away. When I got red-carded earlier this month, it was the talk of the town on sports-talk radio. That's cool. That's the way it should be.
SI.com: We talked in spring of 2007 right after Germany's Borussia Mönchengladbach cut you loose and you said you were too old to sit out a season to wait for an expansion team in Seattle. Yet that's what you ended up doing after one season back in England.
Keller: That was an interesting situation because 'Gladbach asked me to sign early on. And I just didn't think I could be motivated if the team got relegated. I can't just do something because of a check. I had a bunch of offers and I was being very picky. At the last minute, Fulham came along with the chance to move back to London. I had a tremendous run at the end of the year to keep the team up and have that experience. And then I had to make another decision: Do I stay there and maybe not play, maybe be a backup, maybe go back to Tottenham, drop down a division or two, go back to Europe? It was hard.
My kids are 11 years old and now they're in their fifth school in their fourth country. If I'm going to drag them around a bit more, it's got to be the right situation. Then it was even tougher when I committed to this team because it was, OK, do I take that little time off and be here from Day 1? Or do I come back in the middle of July? After that first game [a nationally televised 3-0 win over New York in front of 32,523], my wife said to me, "You know, it would have been a huge shame to have missed that experience." I fully agree that the choices have fallen into place.