So far, it’s been a storybook ending in the final chapter in the story of Kasey Keller’s professional soccer career.
However, the tale begins well before March of 2009 when the lid was lifted on the Sounders FC’s inaugural season or even August of 2008 when he signed with the club.
As a youth player, Keller watched from the Kingdome as the Sounders of the North American Soccer League took the city by storm and dreamed of one day playing for the Sounders himself. He even had a chance to play some exhibition games on the Kingdome pitch with his youth team prior to kickoff of the NASL matches.
Once it came time for Keller to play professional soccer, though, MLS was still four years away from its first season. When whispers arose that Seattle would be awarded an MLS franchise, it was a natural that he would start thinking of a return home to close out his career.
Even still, when Keller came to MLS and Seattle by signing a contract on August 14, 2008, he was taking a tremendous leap of faith. Without a coach named yet and just USL forward Sebastien Le Toux signed to the roster, there were no guarantees for the Sounders in 2009.
Would soccer in Seattle succeed on a commercial level? Will they measure up on the field?
On March 19, 2009, all questions were answered in the affirmative when the Sounders posted a 3-0 shutout of the New York Red Bulls and were the talk of the town.
“I truly knew after the first game,” he said. “When we beat New York 3-0, I remember sitting at home with my wife after the game and saying that not being involved in that game would have been wrong. If I had missed that first game, I would have missed something big.”
He went on to post 457 scoreless minutes to start his MLS career – becoming the first player in league history to post shutouts in his first three MLS starts.
He led the Sounders to the playoffs in each of the franchise’s first three seasons, also winning the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup in each of those seasons. Seattle was the first MLS franchise to reach the playoffs in their first three seasons and first team to win three consecutive Open Cup titles since New York’s Greek Americans in 1969.
Now in his final season, he has had time to reflect on the last three seasons and how important it has been to be able to finish his career on his own terms in his hometown.
When owner and general manager learned that his bid to bring an MLS franchise to Seattle was successful, he immediately thought of Keller and bringing him in as a cornerstone to the club.
“I was on a plane very shortly afterwards to London to go meet with Kasey and try to sell him on a vision. He didn’t take a whole lot of selling because I think he had a shared vision and that was to be instrumental in the launch of this franchise,” Hanauer said. “We knew we wanted to build with Kasey Keller in the goal and it’s been a fantastic decision both for the club and for Kasey.”
It still wasn’t quite as simple as just bringing a player home to finish his career. Keller was considering retiring after the close of the 2006-2007 season with Borussia Monchengladbach. The Sounders were still a year and a half from their first match and it wasn’t until an offer came to play at Fulham that he determined that he would continue his career and play for the Sounders.
“I was really close to not coming back to Seattle at a couple different times,” Keller said. “It was a little bit tricky because I was signing in August and we weren’t starting preseason until January. But it probably was a big part of the reason why I’ve been able to sustain a level because I was able to take a little bit of a break and recharge the batteries, both physically and mentally, and be ready for that push.”
He was an All-Star in the first season, leading the Sounders to a win in the US Open Cup over DC United and pushed them to the playoffs, making them the first expansion side to reach the playoffs since 1998. 2010 marked another Open Cup title, this time in front of a tournament-record crowd of 31,311 at CenturyLink Field. The Sounders again reached the playoffs, but another first round exit left Keller feeling like there was unfinished business. He went into the offseason without a new contract, but confident that one would come. In December, it did and Keller announced that 2011 would be his final season.
After a slow start, the Sounders have been among the top two teams in the league since August while also winning a third Open Cup title and reaching the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. With two matches left on the MLS calendar and the playoffs still in front of him, Keller is happy with how his final season has shaped up, but is again aware that there is more to be had.
“I really hoped that when I decided and the club decided that I was going to play one more year that we would be competitive. And we’ve been more than competitive. And we’re not done yet and that’s what I’m excited about,” he said. “I truly believe that this is a year that we could challenge.”
The Sounders FC will honor Keller at their final home match Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes. A crowd of over 60,000 is expected at CenturyLink Field and the first 40,000 will receive Kasey Keller captain’s armbands. Immediately following the match, Keller will be honored in an on-field ceremony.
The match, which kicks off at 7:30, and the post-game ceremony will be televised live on Fox Soccer.