Stories of the Year, No. 9: End of an era

Kasey Keller

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As the Best of 2011 series continues on MLSsoccer.com, we're counting down the 11 most important stories of the year in Major League Soccer. We'll take a look at one story per day from Dec. 21 until Dec. 31, when we unveil what our editors voted as the Story of the Year in MLS in 2011.

The countdown continues with No. 9, as correspondent John Bolster looks at the farewell game for Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller.

MY MOMENT OF THE YEAR
by Chris Wondolowski

 

Kasey Keller's Tribute Game

Khari Stephenson had a chance, but it was a tough angle. Kasey comes out and makes the save on Khari (watch the highlight below), and the balls pops right out to me. He was pretty far off his line so I thought I could just hit it well, but he made a great foot save. He made about three or four saves there, it was some cat-like reflexes. He’s very tough, and he’s one of the very best for a reason. I know he frustrated me a couple of times this season with some huge saves. I think he won Save of the Week twice this season two of my shots.

We’d sort of heard how many tickets had already been sold, but I’ve been to games in big stadiums with crowds that big when the crowds weren’t that involved. We walked out and it was 60,000-plus strong on their feet. I’ve been to a lot of Oakland Raiders games and even when they won the AFC Championship in 2002, and it wasn’t as loud there as it was in Seattle when Kasey made those saves. That was one of the loudest places I’ve ever been, and it was special just to be out there.

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Ask 100 soccer people for their opinion on a soccer-related question and you’re liable to get a hundred different answers. But there are a select few issues that produce total unanimity, or something close to it. One of those concerns the greatest goalkeepers in US soccer history: Everyone agrees it comes down to Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel (with Tim Howard edging his way into the conversation).

As for which of those two has the edge, well, good luck finding agreement there.

But if you asked goal-scoring legend Romário, whom Keller confounded repeatedly in the United States’ historic 1998 Gold Cup victory over Brazil (prompting Romário to call it the best goalkeeping performance he’d ever seen) he would not hesitate to pick the Lacey, Wash., native who grew up on an egg farm.

Neither would the vast majority of the 64,140 fans who packed into CenturyLink Field this past October to witness Keller’s final regular-season home game, against the San Jose Earthquakes.

They were there to honor the most capped goalkeeper in US history (102), was a three-time US Soccer Athlete of the Year (1997, ’99, 2005), and made stops at Millwall, Rayo Vallecano, Tottenham, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Fulham before winding up his career close to where it began in the Pacific Northwest.

The attendance figure was not only the third-largest in league history for a stand-alone game, it was also the fourth-best in world soccer that weekend. It was a landmark moment for the player, the region and US Soccer—and it clocks in at No. 9 on our list of the 11 biggest stories of the year.

As for the game itself, it unfolded as if scripted to match the occasion: With his side trailing 1-0, Keller pulled off a terrific quadruple-save to keep Seattle in the match in the 65th minute, and then, duly inspired, his teammates swooped in to win the game 2-1 with two goals in the last eight minutes.

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As Keller told MLSsoccer at the time: “You can ask my friends who were able to fly out, guys who’ve played around the world, and they just can’t believe it. They are so proud of what’s going on here in Seattle and I’m just proud to be a small piece of it.”

Of course, Keller was more than a small piece. After the comeback thriller, the Sounders held a ceremony in his honor, with his former national-team peers Brian McBride and Claudio Reyna standing by. Among the parting gifts the future Hall-of-Famer received were a pair of bronzed goalkeeper gloves and a motorcycle.

In front of the rapt crowd, most of it standing, Seattle GM Adrian Hanauer asked Keller if he was sure about retiring. “Yeah, I’m positive,” came the reply.

With that, Seattle and the US Soccer nation said goodbye to one of the greats. 

WATCH: Keller comes up huge in tribute game