In the words of Robert Frost, Kasey Keller took the less-traveled road. A different path from most, for sure, yet a trail which has also taken him all the way back home.
After living and working the past 17 years abroad in Europe, Keller is home, his feet standing on the ground not far from where he first flung himself through the mud to stop a ball from reaching the net.
In these initial days since signing with Sounders FC, it must seem a bit surreal. He’s home, and no longer for just a visit. He’s home for good.
For the good of his family, his friends and himself. For the good of the fans and, for many, many reasons, Sounders FC.
While always aspiring to play at the highest possible level, Keller blazed a trail for others to follow. Where there was once only a handful of Americans in Europe, now there are dozens.
He’s now showing the way to Seattle, establishing a high standard for the fledgling club right from the beginning.
More Than Just Saves
Chris Henderson collaborated with general manager Adrian Hanauer in bringing Keller back, and he says the classy keeper will be known for more than just making saves for Sounders FC.
“With Kasey, we start our new franchise with the best goalkeeper in MLS,” claims Henderson, his former U.S. international teammate. “Having played with him, I know the confidence that you feel, knowing you have him behind you in the net.
“Kasey’s also a local guy, and he will help players coming to Seattle feel comfortable in their new city,” Henderson adds. “He is great in the community, he has begun training again and he will certainly be the leader in the locker room next year.”
Indeed, as a player, Keller is making a smooth transition to his new/old surroundings.
When in Olympia, he can train with Rob Walker, who was his coach as a youth and now a U.S. Soccer staff coach. In the Seattle area, Keller works out with Tom Dutra, the USL Sounders keeper coach. It’s much the same as when Keller would train during his summers.
“This part of it is as easy as ever,” Kasey says. “Here are two guys who know me better than any goalkeeping coach I’ve ever had, so keeping fit is pretty easy.”
It’s the Simple Things
Life, however, is not all about work or, in this case, play. It’s about family and relationships and all those things no one ever mentions. Like doing the wash.
“For my wife and, for myself as well, a really big washer and dryer will definitely be a big creature comfort we are looking forward to,” Kasey says.
While away in Europe, he and Kristen have come to value some of America’s simpler pleasures, such as the variety of items available at a supermarket, or the customer service offered by most shops.
Anyone who’s ever lived in the same cycle, the same job for a long, long time knows that it takes awhile for life to develop a new rhythm. As natural as it is, living at home will seem foreign at first.
“We’ve always been in Europe,” says Kristen, who’s known Kasey since their high school days at North Thurston.
They married in the summer of 1991, shortly before his second season with Millwall, their first of three stays in or near London. The kids were born in Leicester and later came two years in Madrid and, of course, the rented castle near Düsseldorf.
“All we know as a couple, is this life,” Kristen says. “We come home for 4-5 weeks at a time.”
Kasey admits he’s not accustomed to having any luxury of time when he comes to town.
Relax, There’s Time
“I have to remind myself that I’m not going away soon,” he says. “For instance, in past summers, if I don’t run down to Portland and see my friends, I may not have another chance for a year. But then I realize I’m not going soon, and that I can probably get down there next week. It’s a fun situation and it will really kick in when the kids start school.”
Henderson understands completely. Settling in will take time. Henderson was named Sounders FC technical director in January. He missed Keller’s press conference while making final arrangements for his family’s move from Kansas City.
“I know how great it has been for me to come back to Seattle, and I’m sure Kasey is having those same feelings as he and his family look to get settled in the place where it all began.”
Cliff McCrath remembers Kasey first coming to his camp on Whidbey Island in 1978. For the next nine summers he returned to Camp Casey, quickly catching the eye of Paul Barron, a guest keeper coach and veteran of the English leagues. Keller and Barron, now an assistant at Newcastle United, stay in touch to this day.
What A Way to Go
Another Keller confidant is Marcus Hahnemann, the Seattle native, onetime Sounder now in his seventh season with Reading FC. Although both are keepers, they rarely talk about their common trade.
If anything, Hahnemann wishes Keller would’ve packed-up and left England sooner. “Let’s just put it this way: If Kasey had not made it back from his [shoulder] injury to play for Fulham, Reading would still be in the Premiership,” says Hahnemann, with a touch of ironic humor.
Still, he couldn’t be happier for Keller.
“The timing could not be better. No other player comes close to what he accomplished over here,” notes Hahnemann. “I know that for Kasey to finish his career back in Seattle is about as good as it gets. I know this because it is exactly what I want to do, let’s say, in a couple of years.”
McCrath, who had a hand in the formative stages of the original Sounders, sees a second coming of that club’s Camelot, if only in the homecoming of Keller.
“This is consolidating his whole career. This is coming home,” says McCrath. “All the stories and scripts you could write, all the movies you would make, would have Kasey coming home in the end.”
Taking the road less traveled, wrote Frost, has made all the difference.