Kasey Keller can be described with many titles.
When it comes to his time with the US National Team and playing in Europe, two become most prominent.
He was the first American player to play in Europe on an American passport when he started his professional career with Millwall in 1992, opening the door for the dozens of American players plying their trade in Europe today. He went on to play for Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton and Fulham in England, along with Rayo Vallecano in Spain and Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany in a 17-year European career.
He also made 102 appearances for the US National Team and was named US Soccer Athlete of the Year three times in 1997, 1999 and 2005.
That success opened the eyes of the clubs in Europe that America is a good place to scout talent, particularly because he established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in every league he played in.
“Kasey was and still is a great soccer player and a good pro. He makes the right decisions to prepare himself on and off the field,” said Brian McBride, a former teammate of Keller with the US National Team and Fulham. “He’s a great shot-stopper and isn’t only one of the greatest that this country has produced, but when he was at his best he was one of the top ten goalkeepers in the world.”
McBride, a longtime friend of Keller, may seem biased, but he’s not the only one to express these sentiments about Keller.
Marcus Hahnemann has a history playing with and against Keller since he was at Seattle Pacific University battling Keller and his Portland Pilots. Hahnemann went on to have a successful career in England as well and made several appearances with the US National Team. Even still, the Seattle native can’t help but admire the career Keller has had in the same time span.
“He left for Europe right away and he was more involved with the National Team at the youth level and I never had those options. He went straight to Millwall and really made a name for himself over in England. I saw that as the next step in my career. I was playing with the Sounders, but I knew ultimately I wanted to get myself over to England,” said the current Everton goalkeeper. “In a lot of ways I wanted to follow in his footsteps. He paved the way for a lot of us coming over there. Without Kasey, I’m sure we might have made it over here, but it wouldn’t have been as easy.”
Claudio Reyna could stake a claim to the Captain America moniker himself. Like Keller, Reyna returned home to the New York Red Bulls to finish his career in 2007 and 2008 after stints in Germany, Scotland and England. But even he, with his 111 appearances, doffs his cap for Keller.
“He goes down as one of the best players ever to represent the United States,” said Reyna, now the USSF US Youth Soccer technical director. “For me, any player has to be judged on the level they obtain, the clubs they play on, appearances on the national team and the longevity. When you put that all together in a generation where Americans have to earn and gain respect unlike any other time, it shows just how much work he did. He put American players on the map abroad. He raised the level of everybody around him. The icing on the cake is that he’s been able to come back home to finish off a tremendous career.”
When the Sounders FC signed Keller in 2008, owner and general manager Adrian Hanauer knew it would be a monumental signing. However, it wasn’t going to be remembered for the nostalgic reasons of bringing a local legend home to finish his career as much as for the success that he would bring the club on and off the field.
“Maybe some people take it for granted, but Kasey is one of the most important American soccer players in the history of the game. There is a reason that he played so many games for the US and was on all those World Cup rosters and played in all those leagues,” Hanauer said. “It’s because he’s one of the greatest. I don’t think we were shocked when this was a big signing and moved the needle, continuing the momentum that we started. Then people saw how well he could still play and that was the final nail on the coffin that this was a good move.”
It’s been a long-time coming for Keller. At 22 years old, he left for Millwall without a clue as to where the road would take him. Now, all these years later, he is finishing his career in his own backyard, however unlikely that may have seemed to him back in 1992.
“I didn’t know if I’d still be doing it at 31,” he laughed. “I remember when I first got to Europe the thought process was, ‘Can you imagine if I could play here for ten years?’ After 17 years I’m able to move back home and play three great years for Seattle – nobody ever could have imagined that it would have become this.”
After Saturday, when his career will be celebrated at CenturyLink Field following the Sounders FC’s match against the San Jose Earthquakes, another word can officially be added to those used as titles for Keller.