UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Stephen Keel lives by a simple motto, and it just might help him get through the next month of suddenly being at the center of the storm for the New York Red Bulls.
“Gripping it and ripping it is a way of life," Keel told MLSsoccer.com. "It’s just going out there and doing whatever you do as hard and as well as you can. It’s a no-regret, putting-it-all-out-there sort of mentality.”
The Red Bulls central defender is quickly beginning to make a name for himself just a few months removed from being released by then-USL club Portland. Keel was brought into New York on trial this offseason and, after a rough start to preseason camp, earned a contract with the senior team.
Now, with the Red Bulls’ two starting center backs away with their national teams for the Gold Cup, Keel is partnering with Carlos Mendes in the heart of the team’s defense.
He seamlessly partnered with Mendes in the second game of the season in a shutout draw in Columbus, and since Rafa Márquez (Mexico) and Tim Ream (United States) have left for the Gold Cup, he’s been nothing short of solid. There haven’t been any major gaffes or errors for a player who, before this season, had just six matches of MLS experience under his belt.
“It’s been an easy transition. There is so much class, world-quality class on this team that I just need to fit in and play my game,” Keel said. “I just need to be a good defender and play my role. Really nothing more, nothing less than that.”
Off the field, he recently appeared in an issue of Time Out New York magazine as part of a feature about eligible bachelors in the Tri-State area, a media appearance that has drawn some jokes and teasing from teammates.
Now a man about town, Keel might be set to reinvent his look again as his long blonde hair, nearly shoulder length now, might be ready for an update.
“I’m considering dreadlocks as the next step. We’ll see,” Keel joked.
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer