SEATTLE – Kasey Keller has waited a long time for this.
The former Seattle Sounders goalkeeper, English Premier League veteran and US national team legend was born in Olympia, Washington and has seen the soccer scene in the Pacific Northwest grow from its infancy into one of the most soccer-mad markets in the country. He was starting in goal for Seattle’s inaugural MLS match in 2009, remaining affiliated with the club as a broadcaster after his retirement from playing – and he’s already seen Seattle compete for two MLS Cups when they visited Toronto FC in 2016 and 2017, with the Sounders winning the 2016 title on penalty kicks.
But even Keller has never seen the Sounders do what they’re about to do when they play host to the league’s premier event in this year’s MLS Cup final against Toronto FC at CenturyLink Field on Sunday (3 pm ET on ABC, Univision, TUDN, TSN, TVAS).
Speaking with reporters from atop Seattle’s iconic Space Needle flanked by the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy that will be awarded to Sunday’s winner, Keller said the Sounders organization is relishing the opportunity to showcase its dedication to the game on MLS’s biggest stage.
“You saw how quickly the stadium sold out,” Keller said. “That’s what it meant [to the fans]. Obviously, the back-to-back appearances in and being able to bring one home was big. But being able to now host it, and have 69,000 people there, to have this whole week of festivities now for the fans to get pumped up about the game and be excited, I’m excited for myself personally with my long affiliation with the club and for everybody involved with the club, the fans, the city. It’s just going to show MLS and the rest of the sports community in America just what this means to this city. We’re all excited.”
Thinking back to Seattle’s 2009 expansion season, Keller said it was the root of all the hype and buzz that took over the city immediately following Toronto’s Eastern Conference Final upset of Atlanta United, which clinched CenturyLink as this year’s host venue.
The Sounders have been famously consistent since joining the league from the USL, never missing the postseason in any of their 11 years in MLS. Being competitive from the very beginning was key to making sure the high level of interest in the team and the sport was sustainable, Keller said, adding that the swiftness with which this year’s final sold out CenturyLink’s 69,000-seat stadium is evidence of how much the sport has continued to grow since the Sounders moved to MLS.
“We kicked this off real well and we just continued to move forward with the way the club is,” Keller said. “MLS is always adjusting, they’re always figuring things out. When we hosted the Cup in 2009, it was a neutral site and the fans came out and they supported LA [Galaxy] and Salt Lake extremely well.
“From day one, we were competitive. We got some [U.S.] Open Cups, we got to host a couple Open Cup [finals], and we got that little taste and then it’s just continued to grow and the club has continued to grow and get bigger and better.”
As for the game itself, Keller said that while reaching three finals in four years is an impressive accomplishment, hosting the event brings a whole different type of spotlight and scrutiny. While the circus that precedes the actual match is part of the fun, a victory on Sunday is ultimately the key to using the platform to push the envelope even further as far as how big the Sounders can get.
“To be in the final three out of four years kind of takes anything out of the equation that there was anything lucky,” he said. “This club is poised to continue for a lot of success and [hosting] this is just going to cement that. Now it’s just really about performing on the day, that’s what it comes down to. It’s a one-off final, you’re hosting, you’re the favorite, you have that pressure of doing that, but there’s no question that the guys will be up for it and ready to go.
“There’s no question it’s going to be a phenomenal atmosphere and both teams will be ready and fingers crossed the Sounders will bring it home.”