Legendary goalkeeper could be making his final stop in Portland

Sounders’ star Keller marvels at how the years have flown by
by: COURTESY OF SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC Kasey Keller, renowned soccer goalkeeper whose roots include a career at the University of Portland, plays in the Rose City possibly for the last time on Saturday, when the Seattle Sounders visit the Portland Timbers at Jeld-Wen Field.

Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller and Portland Timbers coach John Spencer have a history of clashing against each other in soccer rivalry matches. In the third round of the 1995 FA Cup, Keller’s Millwall side and Spencer’s Chelsea went to a shootout. Millwall’s five shooters converted their penalty kicks. The first four shooters for Chelsea did the same. That brought Spencer to the penalty spot with Keller in goal. “There was crowd trouble behind us,” Spencer says. “Only me, (Keller) and the referee were on the field.” Spencer sent the ball to the bottom corner of the right post. Keller guessed correctly. He dove and blocked the shot. Pandemonium ensued, and a riot broke out. “The Millwall fans are still famous to this day of being a real tough crew,” Spencer says. “And Chelsea fans and Millwall fans don’t really get on. They hate each other.” Fans stormed the pitch, as police officers, mounted on horseback, tried to hold them back. Millwall players reportedly were attacked. Projectiles rained from the stands at the police, sending at least two officers to the hospital with head injuries. As the police beat back the invasion, fans moved out of the stadium, and more brawls took place. According to Scotland Yard, tear gas was used against the officers. In all, 38 fans were arrested. While the Northwest rivalry between the Sounders and the Portland Timbers is as fierce as any in America, it is unlikely to cause a riot, no matter the result when the clubs meet at 1 p.m. Sunday at Jeld-Wen Field. “And that’s a very good thing,” Keller says, laughing. The 41-year-old Keller plans to retire after this season. Barring a playoff match-up, this weekend’s game marks the last time that the former University of Portland star will step onto a pitch in the Rose City. “Portland has just always been very special for me,” says the native of Olympia. “I truly enjoyed my time in Portland, and still do. I still enjoy coming down and seeing friends. If situations had been different —let’s say Portland had gotten the (MLS) franchise (first) and Seattle hadn’t —I would have quite comfortably gone the other way” and played for the Timbers. As the four-time U.S. World Cup goalkeeper plays his last season, he sometimes wonders where the time has gone that has seen him compete in some 700 professional matches. “It is truly crazy,” Keller says. “I look back at different times and say, that wasn’t too long ago. Like, that was when I was playing for Tottenham. Then I sit back and I’m like ‘holy (expletive), that was almost 10 years ago now.’ “When you’re a kid, everything goes by (school) grade. For me, it happens with what club I was playing for at that time. “It’s been a lot of fun.” Videos of that wild ’95 FA Cup match show that Spencer and Keller —who both now sport the bald look —had heads of hair. “I probably had a little bit more hair than him, for sure.” Spencer says. “I was busting out the Fonzie look back then, the sweep back. He had the mullet, as a lot of the Americans did back then.” Keller is philosophical about both the loss of hair and time. “It comes to all of us,” he says. “It just shows where the state of the game is that John and I could play against each other in England in ’95, and 16 years later, we’re here trying to get this league where we all want it.” In the right direction Keller will go down as one of the true greats of American soccer. After earning All-American status at UP, he enjoyed a long tenure as the national team goalie and became a trailblazer for Americans playing in Europe. Keller played for a total of 16 years in three of Europe’s top leagues: the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga. He was named U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year an unprecedented three times (1997, 1999 and 2005). “He’s had an unbelievable career,” Spencer says. One of Keller’s fondest memories is the 1997 World Cup qualifying match between the U.S. and Costa Rica at Portland’s Civic Stadium (now Jeld-Wen Field). The U.S. won 1-0. “Probably one of the best atmosphere games I’ve ever played at with the national team in America,” Keller says. Keller has returned to Portland with the Sounders for U.S. Open Cup matches, and it always is emotional for him to see the banner for Clive Charles, the late UP coach, in the stadium rafters. “Being able to come back and see Clive’s name up there is extra special,” Keller says. “I owe a lot to who I am as a person and who I have been as a professional to my time with Clive. And I’m just extremely disappointed, still every day, that he’s not here to be a part of it.” Once the 2011 season ends, Keller will have to decide what is next for him. He gave up offers to play in Europe in order to “be a part of something here” but also because he was thinking about “what was I going to do when I was done playing? Was I going to just go retire in my house in Idaho, and golf and ski? I would’ve been bored out of my mind after a year or two.” Keller wants to go into his post-playing days wearing many different hats — experiencing front office, coaching and media duties —and decide what is the best fit. He wants to provide some stability for his twins, son Cameron and daughter Chloe, who will turn 14 this summer and are headed for high school. “My kids have been in five schools in four different countries,” Keller says. “I don’t necessarily want to go jump on the coaching merry-go-round and make them move a bunch of different places. I’ve got time. I can hang out here and get some experience for four years until they’re in college or doing their own thing.” Then there is the question that comes to all great athletes when they step off the field for the final time. What will be their legacy? “It’s hard,” Keller says. “I don’t think I can name my own legacy. That has to be named for me. I just look at some of the cool things.” After going through the list of things he has accomplished on the pitch, the answer hits him. “I guess,” Keller says, “it’ll be as one of the guys who really helped get this thing (American soccer) going in the right direction.”