SEATTLE – And so ends one of the most storied careers in American soccer. Sounders FC goalkeeper Kasey Keller played the final game of his professional career on Wednesday night, backstopping Seattle in their 2-0 victory over Real Salt Lake.
Fittingly, Keller recorded the shutout, including a huge 79th-minute save on Fabián Espíndola to keep the Sounders in the match. However, Seattle won’t advance in the playoffs, meaning Keller won’t get a chance to end his career with the MLS Cup in his hands.
For Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, that’s the most disappointing part of this ending.
“There's nothing I would have done or this team would have rather done than take him out with an MLS Cup,” Schmid said of Keller after the match. “We were able to give him three US Open Cups and three years in the playoffs, so that is the extent of our gift to him.”
Keller’s career took him throughout Europe, with stops in England, Spain and Germany. In the end, he concluded his career about 60 miles away from his boyhood home of Lacey, Wash., where he rose through the ranks to become one of the first Americans to make his name in professional European soccer.
He ends his career as the face of a franchise, but with the elusive MLS Cup remained out of his grasp.
“Yeah, of course, holding up a MLS Cup in a couple weeks would have been tremendous, but you can't fault anybody,” Keller said in the locker room. “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."
While the disappointment lingers, the players are happy to see Keller leave near the peak of his abilities. In the three seasons he played for the Seattle Sounders, he missed only one MLS match (a red-card suspension in 2009). Of Seattle’s 130 competitive matches to date, Keller has started 119. At age 41, he led MLS in goalkeeper victories with 18.
“It’s every player’s dream to have people saying, ‘Can you play one more year?’ and you leave on top,” Sounders technical director Chris Henderson said. “The way he’s able to walk out, a future Hall-of-Famer, it’s an honor.”
Echoed Schmid: “He’s still 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 someone being able to end their career at home in front of friends and family.”
Keller’s continued excellence had some wondering if he’d come back for the CONCACAF Champions League knockout stages next year, but he’s quashed that idea on numerous occasions. Instead, he will remain with the organization in some capacity.
Talking with Henderson, it appears that Keller’s eventual job title is yet to be decided – Keller will float around the organization and see what he likes. But, as Henderson mentions, there’s plenty of time to contemplate what comes after.
“It's an ex-player trying to find the path he wants to take,” he said. “I think every player faces that. Sometimes you’re able to do a few different things and then say, ‘Hey, this is what I want to do.’”
Added Schmid, “We’re going to miss him, but he’ll still be around.”
Andrew Winner covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com.