In the 79th minute of his final game as a professional, Kasey Keller once again gave his fans something to remember him by.
Without facing a shot on goal through the first 78 minutes, Keller had been mostly untested by Real Salt Lake in the second leg of the Western Conference semifinal series. But when Fabian Espindola broke free to take a pass from Yordany Alvarez behind the Seattle defense, the 41-year-old goalkeeper took center stage.
Keller stalked to the edge of his six-yard box as Espindola charged, Jeff Parke and Zach Scott giving chase. The RSL forward wound up and fired a left-footed blast on the run and Keller lifted his right hand right into the path of what would have been the dagger to end Seattle’s season. Instead Keller parried the ball over the crossbar to give the season, and his career, new life as the match approached its final minutes.
Seattle was unable to come back to even the series, but that instant is among the many that will be ingrained in the minds of the Sounders FC fans who had the privilege of watching a local legend finish his career. One final save to remind himself and any critic or fan around the globe that he is finishing his career as a star.
“Kasey Keller has meant a great deal to this franchise and there’s nothing I would have rather done or this team would have rather done than to take him out with an MLS Cup. We were able to give him three U.S. Open Cups and give him three years in the playoffs, so that’s the extent of our gift to him,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “He’s still a goalkeeper who’s one of the best goalkeepers, if not the best goalkeeper in our league. He’s played at a high level. It’s great to see somebody be able to finish their career at home in front of friends and family. It’s been a great situation.”
In his three seasons in Major League Soccer, Keller started all but one match, amassing 8,264 minutes, including all 3,060 for the Sounders FC in 2011. He had 30 career shutouts and a 1.06 goals against average and quite possibly saved his best for last, posting 9 shutouts and a 18-7-9 record in his final campaign.
To Keller, an Olympia native who has made Western Washington his home his whole life, it was nearly the perfect ending to an illustrious career.
“It’s over. It’s been a helluva three years. It’s been an honor to be able to come home and play for something as cool as the Sounders have become and were from the first minute. You couldn’t have asked for a better end of my career,” he said. “Yeah, of course, holding up a MLS Cup in a couple weeks would have been tremendous, but you can’t fault anybody. We had one of those bad days a couple days ago and came back here and restored a ton of pride. We just came up a tiny bit short.”
The Sounders, namely Schmid, owner/GM Adrian Hanauer and technical director Chris Henderson, will be charged with replacing the legend. Keller, meanwhile, is set to embark on the next phase of his life – life after professional soccer.
“I’m just looking forward to the next stage. It’s been a fun 20+ years. I’m just looking forward to that next challenge,” he said, noting that his retirement will be aided by a gift from the club, a personalized KTM 500 EXC street-legal off-road motorcycle. “I’ve got to break in that bike first though. That’s priority number one.”