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December 26, 2010 at 7:12 PM

Belated transcript from the Kasey Keller press conference

keller presser.jpgPhoto credit: Ted S. Warren, AP

I know that this is a week and a half after the fact — see how much was said and you might understand why it took so long — but I wanted to post everything that was said while the cameras and tape recorders were rolling last Friday when Sounders FC announced a one-year contract extension for Kasey Keller. The veteran goalkeeper and Adrian Hanauer, part owner and general manager, each had statements and took questions from reporters.

Quite a bit of the Q&A related to subjects beyond the news of that day, so I think you might be interested. Certainly the tone and context of various parts are hard to convey in print, so shoot me an email if you’re confused with any part.

* * *

ADRIAN HANAUER

(Opening statement…) “I’ll be brief. First, I just wanted to recognize a few people that may or may not be familiar. Peter McLoughlin, president of Vulcan Sports and Entertainment. Peter’s been with us now for two months and has been a great, great addition and has been awesome to the organization with Tod leaving. John Rizzardini, chief operating officer of Vulcan Sports and Entertainment, and has also been instrumental in our success over these two-and-a-half years. Gary Wright, senior vice president of business operations, calls himself the traffic cop. Gary’s been tremendous for the organization, was with the Seahawks for 32 years and has brought so much knowledge and calm and passion to our organization. Again that sort of segues in some degree into the announcement today because I know Kasey’s has had a lot of interaction with this group as well. I think he’ll be the first to tell you that Sounders FC wouldn’t be what it is today without this group and a lot of others as well — Chris Henderson standing in the doorway there. The structure allows us to bring in great players, great personalities and allows them to hopefully thrive and have success on an individual level and a team level, because you need the infrastructure and organization and facilities and planning and support in the background so that you can focus on doing your job.

“With that said, we are obviously very, very happy again today — I think the last time we were here I was saying ‘to bring this young man back,’ I’m not sure I’ll say that today — (to bring) this gentleman back for one more year with Sounders FC. I’m not sure words can describe how valuable he has been to this organization on and off the field. It’s funny, it seems like just a few months ago we were in London having dinner together talking about what could, might, should, possibly be with MLS coming to Seattle and the opportunity for him to come home with his family. It’s funny. Time flies when you’re having fun and the last two years have definitely been fun.

“I’m not going to go into the statistics and the numbers and all that detail. I think that everyone in this room has watched enough of the games to know that Kasey has been tremendous in the goal, as a leader of the defense back there, more shutouts this year than last year is obviously a testament, especially with some of the movement in and out with the back four. Kasey has just been the total rock, the stability in the back for the team.

“Again, as much as I talk about the on the field, the off the field is equally important and impressive with what Kasey has been able to accomplish. 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. 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. Kasey has been such a valuable asset on the field and off the field and over time has become a very good friend of mine, of the entire organization. He and his wife Kristin and their kids have become part of the Sounders family.

“We’ve certainly talked about what that may or may not translate into going forward, beyond his playing days. Kasey will certainly always be a part of the Sounders family and it’s likely and hopeful that he will be involved beyond his playing days. I don’t want to retire him before he’s retired. With that, we are very happy today that we are announcing that Kasey will be back for the 2011 season and again will hopefully help us get over the finish line and get an MLS Cup, which I know he would be thrilled to do, especially with the Cascadia Cup, the introduction of the amazing rivalries that will be happening in 2011.”

LATER IN THE Q&A PORTION

(Q: What have you done in regards to the goalkeeper position for the future?) “We’re working on it. We’ve got Terry Boss, obviously. He’s been here, good young ‘keeper, has been coming along. Tommy (Dutra) might be a better person to really drill down on. We will almost certainly add a third keeper with the increased roster size, so we’ve got a keen eye on some of the young players coming out of the draft. We’ve look at players around the league. We’ve looked at some players internationally. We’ve got a good, young player in our academy system. We understand that we’ve got one more year and it’s a priority.”

KASEY KELLER

(Opening statement…) “Just to reiterate a little bit of what Adrian just said, the big reason why I’m here and continue to be here is because of the tremendous organization that this club has put forward from Day 1. The tremendous job Adrian has done keeping the game alive in this city, with Joe (Roth) and Drew (Carey) and Vulcan and what Tod Leiweke did and now obviously Peter and Rizz and Gary, and Chris came back and helped organize this thing from the players’ side of it — and the coaching staff bringing in some great guys. For myself, being able to come home and know that the guy that I’m going to work with day in and day out in Tom Dutra, a good friend of mine growing up and a guy that I respect a lot, that makes that side of it so much easier for me. To be able to say, ‘OK, I know I’m going to show up to training and not only get what I need player-wise but also enjoy myself.’ If you’re 41 years old and done this thing for 20 years and you don’t enjoy yourself anymore, why the hell are you going to still do it? You have got to still like what you’re doing day in and day out. And then obviously the opportunity to come home after such a long time in Europe and to get my family settled back in the Northwest, to my kids this is their fifth school in their fourth country and the prospect of moving them around again was something I didn’t want to do. (I wanted) to be able to come home and be able to be a part of something so cool and so unique for soccer in America.

“I have talked to many of my ex-teammates with the national team and the situations that they have gotten themselves into back in the U.S. and they are very, very envious of what we have been able to accomplish here in Seattle. The thought of being able to also play against Portland, against Vancouver, one more year is something I just felt I needed to be a part of.

“But from day one, I always said that I only wanted to do it if I could still compete at the level and the standard that I have set for myself. I don’t want to be that guy that everybody says, ‘You really should’ve retired last year.’ 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. That was also something I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be retired. I didn’t want to say, ‘Sorry Kasey you’re just not good enough anymore.’ I wanted to be able to say that this is my final year and that I’m going 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.

“At the same time, I truly feel that I will be a part of the Seattle Sounders furniture for a long time to come and that was the game plan when I first came back. That was a big reason why I came back, was that I felt very strange to have had the career I’ve had, to have done the things that I’ve done, to be the only American player to do the things that I’ve done, and then to retire to my house in Idaho and snowboard? That just doesn’t make any sense. I needed to be somewhere to start to give back, to start to help evolve this game and get it to where we all feel that it can be and that it should be in the future. And I’m looking forward to that opportunity. But like Adrian said, I’m not going to retire myself early. I have got an important year next year and I want to make sure I can play at that level. I know that with the help of the great organization that we have, the coaching staff and Tommy, that I’m really looking forward here to starting in the not so distant future. Everyone says what a short offseason that soccer has and I know I’ve gone through many years where I was very happy to have three weeks off. I have to admit I’m definitely looking forward to having a few more weeks off before we get started. But it is, it’s coming around the corner. After Christmas and New Year’s there’s not going to be much time before the end of January rolls around and we’re back in preseason. I’m already looking forward to getting back with the guys and getting ready to hopefully bring home that first MLS championship for the team.”

(Q: For those that have talked to you throughout the year, this isn’t a big surprise…) “True. We’ve been saying it for a long time. It was just a case where Adrian and I were so comfortable with each other and trust each other that we knew more or less that this was probably going to happen. We’d been talking about it for a long, long time. So it wasn’t a case of, ‘OK, we’ve got to get this done immediately.’ We kind of knew. With all of us taking off for the holidays, we wanted to get it done before that time. We knew there wasn’t a huge rush to get it done a week after the season was over.”

(Q: … when did you come to the decision on 2012?) “I think I came to the realization just knowing that I feel very comfortable that I could possibly play in 2012, physically and mentally. But I also knew that I didn’t want to push my luck. I knew that time waits for no man — regardless that I’ve definitely pushed it back a few years — that time is going to be inevitable and I would much rather be able to go out on my own terms and say, ‘Look, this is going to be my last year,’ and still have people thinking that maybe I could play longer, including myself. And, like I said, I really have that fear of not being able to perform at the level that I have and I don’t want to cross that bridge as a player. There are plenty of athletes over the years that I’m sure really wish they would’ve said, ‘God I wish I would’ve finished and not tried to push it that extra year.’ I don’t want to do that.”

(Q: Do you want to play in every match next season?) “That’s the plan. The one statistic that I’m proud of is that in the two years I’ve been home in MLS, I’ve played more minutes than any other player in the league, if you combine the league and the cup competitions. For a 39-40 year old guy, I’m pretty proud to be able to do that. I think I’ve missed less than probably three or four training sessions in the two years that I’ve been here. I’m out on the field. I’m not just hanging out in the treatment room and showing up on Fridays and then playing in the game on Saturdays. I’m training everyday and training as hard as I possibly can everyday, to the routine that we’ve set to get me ready for Saturday. I honestly believe that that has to set an example for younger players. That that’s part of the responsibility that us veterans have when we continue to play. That look I’m not coasting because I can or because my name allows me to, or whatever else. I’m out there showing that I don’t care how old you are, you get out there and you work hard every time you step out on the field, because that’s going to prepare you for the game on Saturday.”

(Q: Adrian mentioned that the team is a bit cap constrained, did you agree to take a pay cut?) “I’m so used to European system, that I’m not a big fan to talk about numbers. But I obviously want to have a successful team, and whatever I can do and still be comfortable with myself as a professional. I know Michael Jordan early in his career, because of what he had done off the field financially, took numbers down to bring in better players to try and win the game. I understand that side of the game as well. So I’m all for the team trying to do as well as they can, but at the same time, this is professional sports and I need to look out for myself and my family as well.”

(Q: Is that a yes or a no?)

(Hanauer: or a no comment…)

“It’s kind of a combination. Read into it what you want. I think I’m just excited for the team to be successful and I know that there’s some open cap space for us to make some moves.”

(Q: Are there drills that you have done to keep sharp and in shape?) “I think the first thing you got to do is take care of yourself off the field. And I’ve been very fortunate off the field on that side of it as well injury-wise, once again knocking on wood. My whole career I have never missed one day with a knee injury. I have not missed a practice with a knee problem. So that’s a great foundation to start from. I’ve had a few what I called kind of preemptive surgeries in the offseason — I’ve had some elbows cleaned out. I’ve really only had a couple things. I had a thigh tear that kept me out a few games at Monchengladbach at the end of my career there. Early on in my career at Fulham, I snapped my shoulder and spent four months getting that put back together. On that side of it, that’s why I have 700-some professional games, because I’ve been so fortunate on the injury side. I think some of that comes from genetics, of course. But I think on the other side, looking after yourself a little bit. Doing the work off the field and not getting in that big party lifestyle and all that kind of stuff, because the guys I know they hit a wall. When they’re out there enjoying themselves a little bit too much it’s amazing how one day rolls along and there’s always this little pulled muscle or this or that because you’re body’s fighting that whole time to try and get the alcohol out of your system and you can’t heal. I don’t want to sound like I’m on a pulpit here, but you definitely have to look after yourself off the field. I’ve been fortunate. The only problem I have is my wife bakes really well.”

(And it’s holiday season…) “Yes, exactly. I always say, ‘You always got to look after yourself.’ 50-percent good food, 50-percent crap. Now as I get a little bit older, it’s 60-40, 70-30. You definitely got to watch yourself. That’s been an important part of my career. Drill-wise sure, I have a bit of a routine that I like to go through. At this many years you seem to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. And at the same time you have respect for your coaching, that your coaches are able to know when you need to push it and when you need to back off. I think that’s where that relationship with Tom and I have is great. Tom knows when we need to get after it and when we need to back off to make sure we’re ready for the game.”

(Q: Was this you going to the team or the team going to you?) “I think it was purely a combination. It was like Adrian said, we have a great relationship. And there were times in the season… I don’t like giving up bad goals and unfortunately it’s the inevitable part of the job, where I gave up a bad goal or two and was not happy with that. And I basically said to myself publicly that if I can’t perform at the level that I want to perform at then I don’t want to play any longer. It’s that little self-motivating side of it as well. I have no problem when I make a mistake holding my hand up and saying, ‘Sorry about that. I made a mistake. I know it’s going to happen and I’m going to do my best not to let that happen again.’ But I just wanted to make sure that I can perform at the level I want to perform at. What I was basically saying to Adrian when we had these conversations was, ‘Let me turn this thing around and we’ll start to talk about it next year.’ I think we all saw what the second half of the season did, not just for myself but also for the team. I took a huge burden on shoulders when I came here to make sure, because I was so angry with many players that had come into this league later in their career — that they felt that they could come in MLS and just coast and sit back and say, ‘I’m so and so and I’m coming back here and you should all just let me do what I want to do.’ I just don’t believe in that. I felt you need to come in here and set a good example and make sure that these kids understand that this league means something — if you want to get to the English Premier League. We’re starting a lot further back, I’ve played for team that were founded in the 1880s. So you can’t think we’ll start a team in a couple years and that you automatically are going to have this fan base and this organization. The club’s done a lot of good things, but it doesn’t mean anything if the players don’t respect that. I wanted to come back and make sure that was definitely set from the beginning. Like I said, I didn’t want to continue if I couldn’t do it and once I really felt comfortable mentally and physically that I could do it, then it was a pretty easy conversation with Adrian.”

(Q: How much has the league grown since you’ve been here?) “I think the thing for me is it’s false because we have something that nobody else has. So for me being able to come back from playing at the clubs that I’ve played at — playing at Tottenham and averaging well into 30,000s and ‘Gladbach in the high 40,000s and this — it’s not like I’m coming home to FC Dallas looking around and going, ‘Where the hell is everybody?’ You’re coming into a city that from Day 1 was just crazy for the game. I signed in August and I don’t know what the stats were, but I think we already had 14,000-15,000 season tickets — and this was six months before we even started preseason. Then by the time we get rolling we’re at 18,000-20,000. Then that goes so well we have to open up more seats. Then next year. I mean we all know what’s going on. But besides even the people in the stands, it’s walking around town and seeing the Sounders neons in all the bars and the scarves. I’m doing some Christmas shopping in Bellevue and people are stopping me. Here’s a great story, a kid comes down and sits next to me. My wife is doing the shopping and like most guys do, we go find a bench to sit on with all the bags. So I’m sitting on this bench and this kid sits down and said, ‘Oh, you’re stuck here with the bags as well.’ I think, OK that’s no problem. So my wife comes back and we take off and she just starts laughing and tells me the story. This kid had gotten up and had told his wife or girlfriend, ‘Yeah I just went down and sat next to Kasey on this bench!’ He had no idea that my wife was right there. So he had come down, sits down, hangs out, talks a little bit, but by no means said anything that he knows who I am or anything like that. That’s the cool part about this city is you’re know. You are a Mariner, you’re a Seahawk — I would say Sonic — but you are pro player in this city and that’s not the same in a lot of other MLS cities. I think that made that transition for me so easy to come home. And so when you talk about coming home and being a part of stuff, this is so surreal. It’s a fantastic way to finish up. Like I said, there are a lot of envious organizations and players and coaches and fans, because let’s be honest, if you’ve been a die-hard fan of a lot of these franchises, you’re dreaming of something that’s happening here. Hopefully we can continue to kick start those other groups into keeping this momentum going.”

(Hanauer interjects to cover the tracks, more playful than serious: “And by the way, FC Dallas is doing a lot of the right things. And they’re adding season-ticket holders and our partners there are very good partners and they’ll be filling their stadium soon.”)

Keller: “With Sounders fans when we travel, right?”

(Q: What does MLS need to do to improve further?) “Wow. If I had that answer I think I could retire already. I think MLS has figured out a lot of things over short period of time. Originally it was a case of soccer-specific stadiums were going to cure all the problems. But a soccer-specific stadium in the wrong area is just as bad as having a 80,000-seat stadium with 15,000 people in it. Now they’ve really figured it out more or less. And it doesn’t hurt going into cities where they have a pretty good idea that they’re going to have a great fan-base. They found that in Toronto. They obviously have found that here in Seattle. They’re continue to find that in Portland and Vancouver and Montreal. Sometimes you can’t force a product on a community that doesn’t really want it. I think that’s kind of happened many years in Miami. Everybody has always said, ‘God, we’ve got to have a team in Miami,’ and every time they put a team there, nobody comes out and watches it. So why keep putting a team there? I don’t know. It seems kind of common sense.”

(Hanauer interjects again: To our new partners in Miami…)

Keller (playfully): We want you to have a very successful team!

Keller continues: “That’s all the common sense part of the sport. I think also what it’s coming down to as well is it’s coming to community and age group where, let’s take Adrian and my age group, we grew up playing the sport. We’re the first group that grew up truly playing the sport. And my kids and Adrian’s future kids…” (laughter)

(Hanauer, laughing: “This is deteriorating.”)

Keller: “We can now finally come and take our kids out into the yard and play the game. My father couldn’t do that. I don’t know if (Hanauer’s) father could do that. In was a case where they didn’t grow up with the game. It’d be very difficult for my dad to take me to a Sounders game in the ’80s and have him jump up and cheer because of a goal and have me tap him on the shoulder and say, ‘Dad, that was offside. Sit down.’ And he’ll go, ‘What is offside?’ Parents don’t like to be told by their kids what’s going on. It’s always the other way around. I remember growing up watching Monday Night Football with my dad and saying, ‘Hey dad, was that a good play?’ He’d say this and that, because he grew up with the sport and now that has totally changed. As that generation that grew up playing the game and wanting to watch the game and wanting to be a part of the game are now embracing that with their children. And that’s going to be a huge thing for the sport over the next 10-20 years. I think the other problem we have is TV doesn’t know how to show the game. We’re used to a lot of sports that are totally geared towards commercials and our sport isn’t. And it’s difficult for TV to be able to get that around their head if they didn’t grow up with the sport.”

(Hanauer: “And for our partners at … FSN…”)

Keller: “They’ve done a fantastic job of obviously changing that for the local market. And that is obviously becoming better and better with the success of the World Cup and all that side of it. I think the sport is extremely healthy and we’re the driving force behind it and we’re going to continue to lead the way for the sport over the next 100 years.”

AFTER THE PRESS CONFERENCE, KELLER MET FURTHER WITH REPORTERS

(Q: If Portland and Vancouver weren’t joining the league next season would this decision have been more difficult?) “Not necessarily. I was told a long, long time ago by my coach at Portland, Clive Charles, that there’s going to be many, many more years when people don’t want you to play, then when they want you to play. So while they still want you and while you can still do the job, and it can still be right for you, keep playing. Why stop? And I feel that way. I still enjoy coming out to training. You know games for goalkeepers are always a little bit different. I don’t enjoy the games. I enjoy when it’s over and I haven’t made a mistake and our team has won — then I enjoy the game. But the game itself is just so much stress. I truly enjoy coming out to training everyday and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t still be doing it. I think that’s more or less why you keep going. And obviously the Portland-Vancouver thing is a huge bonus. It’s something that’s going to be a lot of fun to be a part of, but it wasn’t the determining factor in me continuing playing.”

(Q: On balancing time with family) “I think that’s what people don’t understand about pro sports. Pro sports is a situation where you don’t have necessarily a lot of commitment each day, but I have absolutely zero control over my schedule. I can’t say, ‘Oh, my friend is getting married this weekend in California. I’m going to let my employer know eight weeks ahead and I’m going to take a three-day weekend.’ You have absolutely zero of that. This club is probably better than almost any club I’ve ever had that we have about a monthly schedule that comes out, where you can organize things. I’ve truly played at many, many clubs where I didn’t know what time training was the next day. The reason for that was they didn’t trust players enough to give them a schedule of what was going on. That side of it I will look forward to even more. Probably the only true thing I look forward to when I’m done playing is that little bit control of my schedule.”

(Q: Any thoughts on the team’s offseason?) “We’re disappointed with obviously losing (two teammates) in expansion draft. Nate and Sanna were huge parts to our success in the second half of season, but we knew that was going to happen. We have a very good, well-balanced team that you just had a feeling some guys were going to be taken out of it. Losing Tyrone on that side of it, he’s been a tremendous asset to the team defensively for a couple years. But that’s part of the game. Unfortunately guys are going to go, guys are going to come. Obviously a big responsibility on Fredy Montero next year, we need him to bang in a bunch of goals, that’s part of the job. They’re going to bring in new guys, the Swedish kid. So I’m excited about that prospect. We also have a great core here. Guys need to continue to improve. That’s always key. You always look to say to somebody, ‘Hey, you’re not young anymore. You’ve got experience now. You’ve got Champions League experience, you’ve won some cups, now it’s time to step it up that little bit more.’ Then obviously there’s a big responsibility on me to play to the level that everyone expects for me to play as well and make sure that we’re not giving up soft goals.”

(Q: You’ve talked about wanting to grow the league, do you think the young guys are getting it?) “I think our team understands it probably more than most because of the way we’re treated and the way that our professional facilities mandate. There are still teams in this league that go to the stadium, change their clothes, drive to a park somewhere, train, get back in their cars dirty, drive back to the stadium and change their clothes. Then you say to them, ‘Oh, by the way, you’re a pro and you have to do this and you have to do that.’ Our structure is obviously… OK we’re playing on grass? We’ve got a beautiful grass situation to train on. OK we’re playing on turf? We’ve got an exact replica of the turf field at Qwest. Then you come in and you’ve got everything you want lounge-wise. You’re going to have people making you post-practice shakes if you need to get your energy levels back. You’re going to have a great meal up here when you’re done. It’s like everything is set up for you to be successful, so there’s no excuses when you’re not and when you’re treating it like it’s not professional. That side of it is tremendous. I think people are understanding and saying, ‘All right. This is what it has to be.’ It’s tough because we are a young league and we’ve made some mistakes and we’ve had to move some teams and do some different stuff, but I’m just so excited that the example that has been set by this organization, with the relationship with Vulcan, with Peter and Tod before him, and Gary and (John Rizzardini). That’s obviously a huge credit to this organization to have those people in this room.”

(Q: Soccer matters, huh?) “Exactly, because there’s no way in hell that would’ve happened in New England with the Revolution and the Patriots. There has to be a correlation with our success off the field and in the stadium for that to happen.”

(Q: Of the two Cascadia teams, are you most excited to play Portland? Any mixed feelings with your connections there?) “Obviously we beat them twice down there in the Open Cup, which was a lot of fun — and I had some interesting fan reactions. I still have a lot of relationships in Portland. I’m on the board of the FC Portland youth team because of the people I know down there. And I have to admit, the majority of the Portland people I run into are very complimentary. Obviously the Timbers Army has taken things to a little bit of a level because I played for a semipro resurrection of the Timbers in the late ’80s. So somehow they’re trying to keep their history alive — just like so much of Sounders history was kept alive — and they to try to claim like I’m some sort of Judas or whatever else.”

(But that’s good for the copy!) “It’s great for the copy and I’ve really kind of embraced that as well because I think everybody needs to have their anti-heroes and their heroes to be able to push this to whatever level we all want to get to. I thought it was great. When they put up that billboard outside of Qwest, I made some sort of comment like, ‘The Timbers fans know they’re not Soccer City. They want to dream.’ So there was something going on. There’s a radio station that I talk to every once in a while in Portland and we were having a good time. But what it basically came down to, what I told them is I thought the sign was brilliant. I thought it was great. I’m all for the fun rivalry side of stuff in building this. The only thing I really want to make sure is there are some really small factions of soccer fans here in America that think to become a true soccer fan you have to almost embrace that hooligan side of Europe, which is exactly what we don’t want. As long as we keep the rivalry side of stuff to the friendly banter, I have no problem with some signs in the Timbers games — I think one said, ‘Keller, do the Cobain.’ If there are things like that, which I find by no means offensive at all, it can be fun banter and all that. Let’s keep it at that.”

(Q: Leave it at the words?) “Exactly. Leave it to the words and the songs and the fun. Let’s not take it too far.”

(Q: Is it hard to see the finish line to your playing career after so long?) “Not really. I think it would’ve been difficult if I had retired and not had this experience and just kind of drifted off into the mountains somewhere. I think the cool part about being here and being a part of this is knowing that there’s a whole new beginning once this is over. That’s what I’m really looking forward to as well, because I do take that responsibility that someone like myself who has had the experiences I’ve had in the different countries, and with the different people, the games that I’ve played for and with and against. We need to keep pushing this league forward and it’s only going to continue to improve if we continue to give back. Besides, I’m 41 years old. What the hell am I going to do with my life if I’m not involved in something?”

* * *

Again, I transcribed this from the tape, so let me know if there’s any confusion regarding tone, context or if there are any spelling/grammatical errors from something I mistyped. Lastly, a video with some interesting insight via KING-5.

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