Kasey Keller setting the standard for Sounders FC
The vocal Kasey Keller, an Olympia native, has shown his leadership with Sounders FC and is glad to be back in the area after making a name for himself in soccer abroad.
Seattle Times staff reporter
They might as well stitch a captain's "C" on Kasey Keller's jersey now. Because the veteran of domestic and international soccer competition didn't take long to grab hold of the leadership role among Seattle Sounders FC players.
The most noticeable part of the new Major League Soccer club's first training-camp practices was Keller's voice. Seattle's No. 1 goalkeeper, an Olympia native who is one of the nation's most accomplished and well-traveled soccer stars, has a commanding presence in goal with his 6-foot-2 frame and his booming voice.
"They saw me as that [a leader] in August when they signed me," he said. "I wouldn't know any other way to do it, but obviously I'll take as big a role as they want me to take."
Keller colorfully urges on his teammates, positions them and forewarns them of possible situations near the goal. And he's loud.
During Friday's 11-on-11 scrimmage at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, Seattle midfielder Khano Smith couldn't get the ball away from another player and stumbled to the grass. Shaking his head, he was slow to get up.
"Get up, K!" Keller shouted from the opposite end of the field. "It's over! Get up and help your team!"
Teammates just accept Keller being vocal out of respect for his experience. His words aren't viewed as sharp criticism.
"He's certainly in command of his guys," Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said. "I thought his demeanor with the guys was good. He was demanding with them. He wasn't berating them or anything like that, but he was very demanding of them. And you have to be demanding. You're not going to win if you're not demanding of each other."
That Keller, 39, feels so at home and comfortable with this new team is no surprise. He is home.
After graduating from North Thurston High School, Keller embarked on his soccer journey. First came the University of Portland, where he was a first-team NCAA All-American as a senior. He was on the U.S. World Cup team in 1990 before being signed by English club Millwall in 1992.
That started a 16-year career in Europe — 12 years in England and two each in Germany and Spain. While playing for Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany's Bundesliga, Keller became the second American to captain a top-flight German club. He also rented a castle in which to live with his family outside of Düsseldorf.
"It was just one of those things," Keller said. "We didn't plan on renting a castle. It just happened. It was a fun experience to be part of the World Cup buildup [in 2006], to be able to have that interesting hook, to have 'MTV Cribs' come over ... but there's also some downsides to living in a thousand-year-old building."
After one season with Fulham in England, the window of opportunity for Keller to come home opened with the formation of Sounders FC. In August 2008, Keller signed a two-year deal with Seattle.
"The circle is completed," he said. "I said from Day One when I left for Europe that I'd love to be able to finish my career back home. There wasn't even a league or team in Seattle, so to think that everything has fallen into place ... we're here, we've started, and it's like it's a total fulfillment."
The idea, Keller said, is to end his playing days in Seattle, then become part of the "furniture" of the franchise. A place within the organization is not written into his contract, but there's a verbal understanding that Keller hopes will lead to him becoming part of the front office or a coach.
Or he could play beyond his two-year contract.
"I had a great life in Europe, so it's not like I was thinking, 'I really want to come home,' " Keller said. "It was a case of if the situation is right. I took a big pay cut to come home, so it had to be the right situation at the right time, and this is home.
"The only two places [in the U.S.] where it would have felt like home is here or Portland."
Tom Dutra, the Sounders FC goalkeepers coach who has known Keller for 25 years, said Keller sets the standard for his position. Seattle has a world-class player in Keller, Dutra added, and the other players are following his lead.
"Wait until he gets really sharp," Dutra said. "He's a guy who just leads by example, first and foremost."
José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 8:54 PM
Sounders lose to another expansion team
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