I’m not exactly 100% sure what the time line was. I was graduating from high school. Still kind of selfish. Arguing with my dad occasionally about work, money, and other priorities. Stuff. I got a scholarship to head to Salt Lake City to study theatre at the University of Utah. My dad drove me from Seattle and dropped me off there. I don’t recall much road-trip conversation about soccer heroes.
Somewhere in between graduating, relocating to Utah, and showing my dad I can make it in the world. I heard about this other kid, same age, from Olympia, Washington. A Goal Keeper to watch. Youth with promise. That sort of thing.
No doubt, it was not long after that I started reading about him occasionally in the Seattle Times.
My soccer career, as for playing, had already ended. When I entered high school, I went straight for varsity Cross-Country, and made the cut. Bicycling, running, violin, and theatre were everything to me. Soccer had fallen off the shelf. That and the fact our high school forwards looked something out of the German National Team youth system. My 5′-8″ frame was small. Height was too much a priority for the sport at that time. Maradona was considered a one of a kind phenom, and Messi wasn’t on the scene yet.
Sounders players Osvaldo Alonso, Michael Fucito, and James Riley will inspire an entire generation of kids whose skill attributes, like agility, endurance, and consistency will matter more than height. It pleases me to know that the next generation of soccer players will have a more equitable variance in size.
As a senior in high school, my friend Dawn Schuller nudged me into co-coaching a 9-year old girls, first year soccer team. I found enough inspiration in that experience to consider dropping college and only coach soccer. I couldn’t see the future in that. So, I went to college to study theatre and become an actor.
Kasey Keller’s name didn’t jump up in many theatre circles. In between a theatre conservatory-esque regime of classes; movement, voice, and theatre history, there wasn’t much room for soccer.
Being the sports-0-phile I’ve always been, I knew who he was and continued to follow his rise up the ladder of the US National Team.
Most people will tell you about his Gold Cup victory over Brazil with the US National Team in 1998. A stunning 1-nil win over the Beautiful Game’s greatest nation. Not me. I’ll tell you how cool it is he lived in a castle in Germany, received an invitation from the King os Spain, and played soccer in England. Above all, I’ll tell you about his relegation battle at Fulham.
Kasey Keller fights for every game no matter what is at stake. In 2006 the US fizzled disappointingly at the World Cup. Keller went to Fulham in the English Premier League. They fell near the bottom of the league in 2007 and headed for relegation. HIs move appeared a possible last stop in his career. Two Seattle area Keepers dueled to stay above the relegation line. Marcus Hahnemann with Reading, and Keller with Fulham. it was a famous and glorious relegation battle.
Difficult to describe what happened next. There is no US equivalent. We measure teams success by what they do at the top of the table. Bottom table teams are just holding out for draft choices to help rebuild. In soccer leagues around the world, there is glory at the top of the table. But the place settings are few and the guest list doesn’t change much.
Three teams at the bottom of the table are relegated to the league below. Three teams in the league below are promoted above. Those relegation battles draw crowds, cameras, and conversation no different from who makes the sweet sixteen. Keller dug in and Fulham planted a historic survival flag. A battle that went to the last match of 2007. It could have been a fitting end, but he heard the Sounders calling.
Sometimes heroes hear their calling. I’ve struggled with following my own passions. How to make them part of my life in a way that earns a living. At a young age Keller heard his calling to be a professional athlete and stayed true to that path. So, when the Sounders called it was no surprise that the US International Soccer hero jumped back across the pond to make his last professional stop at home.
At the end of Keller’s second year with the Sounders, his contract was renewed. Instead of a bidding process for more money. Keller offered less. He offered $50,000 less than he could have taken. That $50,000 found Mauro Rosales. This is sports. Just entertainment at the end of the day. But with Keller it’s much more. School in session. Sacrifice personal reward for the greater achievements of your family and community. For your club.
In his third year with the Sounders, their third year in existence, he is the team Captain and soccer icon we have always wanted. 62,000 will take part in his retirement ceremony. Leaving no less than what all sports in America needs. An example of hard work, leadership, and desire to win no matter what is at stake
Kasey Keller Day is officially upon us. 62,000 will take part in his retirement. One fan finds himself reflecting on his own life’s soccer influence, and taking account of future goals. As Keller retires from soccer, I find myself more and more compelled to be part of its growth. Keller’s achievements inspire and bring together the core for me of what sports are about. A club rising to the occasion to represent the city that hosts it. Keller has brought both club and community together. As he retires, I can’t help feel that he has united Seattle into something special for decades to come. Inspiring us in sport, classroom, and life.
Dedicated to Dawn Schuller – She is my personal soccer Captain and hero.
© 2011 Sales on Sounders by Ryan Sales