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Keller: He's a Keeper

The Sounders FC shot-stopper will return in 2011 for his 20th and final professional season.

Adrian Hanauer and Kasey Keller began discussing Keller’s interest in coming to MLS over dinner in London in 2008.

The US National Team shot-stopping legend has since left an indelible mark on soccer in the Pacific Northwest with his exploits on and off the field.  He has been one of the top goalkeepers in the league and has been the most marketable defensive player.

Flanked by Vulcan President Peter McLoughlin and COO John Rizzardini, and Sounders FC VP of Business Operations Gary Wright and Technical Director Chris Henderson, Hanauer announced that Keller would return to the Sounders FC for a third season, his 20th and final season as a professional.

“Kasey has been tremendous in the goal as a leader of the defense back there, especially with some of the movement in and out with the back four,” Hanauer said.  “Kasey has just been the total rock, the stability in the back for the team.”

Among keepers with at least 40 games played over the last two seasons, Keller is third in GAA at 1.038, trailing only Nick Rimando (0.897) and Donovan Ricketts (0.958).  He also leads the league’s goalkeepers in minutes played topping the next closest keeper by 320 mintues, a stat he is particularly proud of.

With 94 points in his 57 decisions, he ranks fourth in the league in points per game (1.649), behind Ricketts (1.815), Will Hesmer (1.694) and Rimando (1.679).  He is also second to Rimando with 21 shutouts in those two seasons.

He also started his MLS career with 457 consecutive shutout minutes, a league record.

His success wasn’t limited to league play, though.  In the 2009 US Open Cup, he earned Player of the Tournament honors after leading the Sounders to the Open Cup championship with a 0.69 GAA in the four tournament matches. 

His continuing ability to compete at a high level convinced Keller to stay for another season.

“From Day One, I always said that I only wanted to do it if I could still compete at the level that I have always set for myself.  The way I feel physically, the way I feel mentally, I see no reason why I can’t continue on for one more season and then be able to go out on my own terms,” he said.  “I wanted to be able to say that this is my final year and I that I want to enjoy myself and that I am going to have a great time and that we are going to try to bring home the MLS championship in my last year as a pro.”

The thought of extending his career beyond his two-year contract with the Sounders first crossed his mind in July of 2009.  The Sounders FC topped the Portland Timbers 2-1 in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup and Keller said that the atmosphere that the rivalry promised when the Timbers and Whitecaps joined MLS in 2011 might convince him to play for another year after his contract expired in 2010.

Although he was excited about the prospect of building MLS further through the Cascadia rivalry, it didn’t weigh on his decision to come back for a final season.

“It’s something that I want to be a part of, but if Portland and Vancouver weren’t involved, I still would play another year if I still felt capable of playing at the level,” Keller said.  “This is just a little bit extra on top, but it’s not the reason I’m coming back.”

He has certainly made his impact on the league and in Seattle.  His is the only goalkeeper jersey in the whole league that is available in the club’s official team store.

“He really has become the face of our franchise.  Certainly the most recognized player on the team and one of the most recognized American soccer players of all time,” Hanauer said.  “It’s been just an amazing asset for us to have as we build this franchise and try to build the brand locally but, as we have said many times, build it globally.”

Keller is the last remaining of the four players who were signed in the year leading up to the inaugural season.  Sebastien Le Toux and Sanna Nyassi were both taken in the expansion drafts of 2009 and 2010, respectively, and the club traded Freddie Ljungberg to the Chicago Fire in July.

Keller joined the Sounders in the summer of 2008 after 17 years as a professional in Europe playing for Millwall, Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton and Fulham in England, Rayo Vallecano in Spain and Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany.  He also capped 102 times for the US National Team, making four World Cup teams and is the team’s all-time leader in clean sheets.  He was named US Soccer’s Athlete of the Year in 1997, 1999 and 2005.