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November 11, 2011 at 1:13 AM

One last stop and chat with Kasey Keller, the goalkeeper

keller mug.jpgSure, technically Kasey Keller (right) has been retired for about a week, but the former Sounders FC goalkeeper held one last interview with the media on Thursday. As is often the case, his answers were lengthy and thoughtful, so typing up a transcript can take time.

Keller addressed making the MLS Best XI, great times with the Sounders, plans for the future, how the league can grow, advice to the next Seattle goalkeeper and more.

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(Opening statement…) “Look, I think we’ve talked a lot over the last couple weeks, that’s for sure, so I’m just happy to reiterate many, many times just my huge thanks to the organization for giving me this opportunity to come home and finish my career in such a cool situation that is the Sounders. To be able to work with the likes of Tod Leiweke, Gary Wright, and now Peter (McLaughlin), and just the tremendous the synergy between the Seahawks and the Sounders has truly been something remarkable for MLS. It’s something that I’m so extremely happy to have been a part of and to hopefully still be a part of for a long time to come.”

(On going out as a member of the MLS Best XI…) “I didn’t really know that it had actually been announced. I think it just kind of reiterates what I said at the beginning of the season (regarding) the way I wanted to go out. I wanted to go out kind of on my terms, still being able to play at the level that I’m happy to play with, that you all are … used to having me play and the fans and the coaching staff and my teammates. I just didn’t want to go out where I wasn’t able to perform at the level that I expect of myself and that everyone else expects of me, so I’m proud that I was able to finish my last season at that level. (MLS Best XI is) just kind of a bonus thing. I’ve never played to try and get those kinds of achievements. I always figured that if the team was successful and if I played to my ability and somebody thought that I did a good job then great. It’s an honor and thank you, but that’s kind of the way I wanted to go out, was still being able to perform at the highest level.”

(What’s the last week been like? After every other season there’s been some sense of next year…) “I still don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet, although I’ve had some interesting phone calls. At the same time, it was more of a case, too, of taking a week or two to kind of get away from stuff before I start to figure out what I’m going to do next. I know next week I’m sitting down with Adrian. Then I’m down to L.A. for all the MLS stuff. Then I’m sneaking off to South Dakota to go hunting for a week. I’m sure after that it’s going to be that first couple weeks in December, before everybody takes off for Christmas, to really try to figure out what the new year’s going to bring. Hopefully by that time I’ll have a little bit better grasp of what that’s going to be.”

(Can you describe what that last home game was like, having 64,000 fans there to see you off?) “Well, I think it was more than just me, but it was a huge responsibility that I felt going into the game. I’d mentioned that it was the most nervous I’d been in quite a while for a game. I’m nervous for every game because I think if you have that pride in wanting to perform at a level, you’re going to have that little bit of nervous energy. If you don’t, then I think you need to kind of rethink the way you’re preparing for a game. This one had a little bit extra. I looked at a few different games throughout my time here in Seattle and that first game against New York, the very first game, I felt that responsibility that we’ve got 26,000 people at this game who’ve bought into a lot of hype, a lot of anticipation — a lot of people for many, many years were hoping and praying for that day to come. I felt a responsibility and I know a lot of the other guys did too, to not let those people go home disappointed. And we didn’t. To be able to win 3-0 in that game was something that we’ll all remember. I felt kind of a similar feeling in that final game, where as ticket people kept telling me, ‘Oh, the ticket sales have gone up this number,’ and then it kept going higher and higher and higher, I just didn’t want those fans to go home and say, ‘Well, I came to watch Kasey play in his last game and he was terrible. Why the hell did I do that? Thank god he’s retiring.’ So I felt that responsibility. When we went 1-0 down, I was just saying let’s just keeping going, and I was able to make a couple saves, and then for the team to be able to come through and get those couple goals at the end of the game and be able to celebrate my last home game along with the great victory made all the difference in the world.”

(Commissioner Don Garber said in Thursday’s conference call that he wants MLS to be one of the top leagues in the world by 2022. How does the league get there?) “Well, you’re not going to do it on a $2.6 million salary cap. So it doesn’t really matter. You can talk all you want and I have the utmost respect for what MLS has been able to do. Early on I think they set the standard. Like any I think situation is going to have, you’re going to have that little bit of a kind of a weeding out period. I think now it’s in a huge ascendency with what we’ve been able to do for the last three years. With what Vancouver and Portland are doing. I’m excited to see what Montreal’s going to bring to the table. Then I think some of the other teams that you have to look at. Look at what Kansas City has done, which is completely changed their club around. We have a few more left to get there. I think that’s a little bit optimistic from Don. When I played for Millwall — Millwall was founded in 1885. Tottenham was I think 1890-something. Monchengladbach was right 1900. To think of where we’ve gone as a league, when I started my professional career there was no MLS. I’d been a pro for four years before there even was a league in this country, so it’s a tough task considering the competition we have in this country with others sports, for athletes, for airtime, for commercial time and all that side of it. I look back at what the NFL was when I was a kid. I look back at what basketball was, the NBA, and the huge strides that those leagues have made in a… I’d like to say 30-year period, but that’s starting to push a 40-year-peiord. And you can’t expect us to have a league for 15-16 years and then add 10 more years to it and think you’re going to rival the English Premier League or the Bundesliga or La Liga in Spain. It just doesn’t quite work that way. We’ve tried to do it in the ’70s and the ’80s with the NASL and throw a bunch of money at it and that didn’t work out so well. I think if we just continue to move on a nice steady growth, continue to claw to other market revenue shares from the other sports. There’s no reason (we can’t); we’ve got a ton of people playing the sport, a ton of people watching the sport, that we can’t get our fair share of media time. In 10-12 years to think that we can rival the English Premier League or the Bundesliga or La Liga or Serie A, I think is extremely optimistic.”

(When you look back, compared to your expectations, how did the last three years go?) “Nobody I think could’ve ever anticipated what this has become. I think what it’s done is also become a driving force for many other teams in MLS. For myself, it was a situation where I had to make a difficult decision: Do I stay in Europe and maybe play for another year or two, maybe move into a backup role at a big club or go to a different country, go back to Germany? A lot of different factors came into play for me. Or actually the other decision was to simply retire three years ago, which was a very possible option, as well. But the decision that a lot of people had talked to me about was coming home to be a part of something, to then parlay it into what I was going to do after I was done playing. Different friends who had come back from Europe had told me that it was really, really important, that they felt, to at least play for a couple years before that was made, if I wanted to work in the game when I was done playing. I would’ve felt very guilty, I think, if I had finished up, moved to my house in Idaho, skied and snowboarded for the last couple years, played golf in the summer and then looked around and said, ‘OK, now I’m 41, 42, that was fun. Now what the hell am I going to do? I’ve been out of the game for three, four years. I’m living in the mountains in Idaho and thinking, all right, how do I get back into this and to the level that I want to get to?’ When the opportunity arose and it was on again, off again with Seattle. Eventually we made it on again, and it was one of the best decisions I’d ever made. The main, main reason for coming home and anticipating to come home was to move into something when I was done playing. I was in my first meeting with Gary Wright … outside the stadium and my first meeting with Tod Leiweke at the Seahawks’ old training facility, that’s what I think started to get me truly thinking that this organization had something special that was going to happen. And I truly was nervous. I’ll be honest with you, I was extremely nervous. I’d heard so many horror stories from different friends of mine who had come home big European teams and come back to MLS and were extremely disappointed, and I don’t know how I could’ve handled that to be honest if I’d been in one of those situations. From those couple meetings I realized that that wasn’t going to be the norm for this organization. Of course there’s always going to be little growing pains and little thing that we’re all going to try to fix, but on that side of it, it was exactly what I was hoping for and still had that little nervousness that it wasn’t going to happen. But after the first game, then I knew it was the right choice. Then I knew. But could I have anticipated? Could anybody have thought in their wildest dreams that we’d be at 38,000 average attendance this year and the scope of this team throughout the Northwest? Nobody could’ve ever imagined that.”

(You said you’ve had some interesting phone calls recently, can you talk about any of those?) “A lot of it was just different things from people wanting me to get involved in their camp situations, to different commentary opportunities that people have kind of been talking to me about for a while. I think it was kind of just trying to get as many things processed to make the right decision. This last decision to come and play for Seattle turned out to be such a great decision that the thought of making the next one is a little bit scary, I think. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to whatever that next chapter’s going to be. If it’s going to be on the commentary side, if it’s going to be coaching, whatever it’s going to be. But I’m looking forward to it and I’m looking forward to seeing what is available and what feels right. By no means will it be a situation either where, ‘OK, this is definitely what I’m doing now for the next 20 years.’ It might be. It might not be. I have no problem doing a few different things at different times. Like I said, ideally, and the reason why I came home to this organization was to be a big of it for a long, long time. Hopefully next week the conversation with Adrian goes really well.”

(Do you have any idea how that conversation’s going to go from your side?) “I hope I know how it’s going to go. I think whenever we go into a situation like that, we all have something in our head how we hope it’s going to go. Then at the same time we have that little lingering thing in the back of our minds saying, ‘Wow, I hope it doesn’t go that route.’ We’ll see how it goes. I’m assuming it’ll go pretty well, but you know what happens when you assume.”

(Can you talk about the growth of the organization over the last three years?) “Well, like I said, in August there were still huge question marks. I think about that time, there was about 18,000 season tickets sold. That I think helped a lot of the anxiety where you knew, ‘OK, people are going to show up,’ and they were going to show up week in a week out. It wasn’t a case where we’ve got 6,000 season tickets sold and 25,000 sold for the first game and now, ‘God I hope they come back,’ after the first one. I think we figured out pretty early on that there was enough interest that people were going to be around, at least for the first season. Kind of the responsibility that we had as players and a coaching staff was to give them a good-enough product on the field so that they would want to come back the year after that and the year after that and the year after that. I think we achieved that pretty well. Then having the organization being able to open up more seats, to bring in some huge friendly games, which maybe they’ve run their course and everyone understands how kind of cool they were and if they’re in the future, they’re in the future. But that was another experience that was pretty cool for everybody. What’s gone on at Starfire, having a great training facility. Everything that’s going on with the club now is, in my opinion, about as good as I think it can get within MLS rules. I don’t know how much bigger we can get. We’re not the Yankees; we don’t have this unlimited salary cap where we can go out and just become this massive team. As much as we want to, we can’t just become Manchester City and just throw hundreds of millions of dollars at the team because of the cap system. But the infrastructure is great. I think all the little things that might’ve been an issue over the last couple years, it’s an organization that listens and fixes. I think that’s a cool thing to have. There’s no real arrogance here. You all know Adrian, it’s not a case where you’re saying this guy’s unapproachable. If this could help the team, the organization is more than happy to do it, within the guidelines that MLS will allow them. Of course us as players, I’d love to give up my 26E middle seat on Alaskan Airlines down to L.A. for a nice charter flight here and there. There’s no doubt about that, but it is what it is.”

(What do you really think about rave green?) “Well, I think it’s worked out pretty well in the city so far. I’m not so sure about that baby-blue green thing that Zakuani was wearing the other day. That’s not my decision.”

(What advice will you have for whoever ends up filling your shoes?) “I think it totally depends on who comes in, and who the club signs and where that goes. I think if it’s somebody with a lot of experience, then it won’t be as big of an issue. If it’s somebody who’s kind of young, up-and-coming and trying to make a name for himself, I’ll just tell him he has to play his game. He can’t try to play like me. Just be humble, be a good guy, and work as hard as you possibly can. He’s got a good coach in (Tom Dutra), and Tommy will work him hard, and I’m sure the organization is really looking for the right guy to make that happen. Time will tell, but I hope he goes and has as much success as possible.”

(Can you talk about what Dutra’s meant to you the last few years?) “I don’t think too many people quite understood that Tom and I have been friends since we were kids. I trained with Tom before I’d go back to Europe in preseason, when I was home in the summer 10 years ago. Tommy was at my house for the World Cup in 2006. It’s not just a case of, ‘Oh look, I’m training with Tom Dutra.’ It was, ‘I’m training with an old friend of mine.’ I think that also made that transition (easy) for myself. I’ve said so many times how the city caring and the great crowds and a decent training ground and everything made the transition so easy for me, but also coming in a training with somebody who I’ve known for years and trained with. I didn’t have to either say, ‘Hey, what are we doing here?’ I’ve had coaches before where I’m doing things and I’m saying, ‘This is not helping me at all.’ How you very politely try to skew the training to what you think you need. With Tom, it was never an issue. Then what I wanted to do for Tom was I didn’t want to make it difficult for him. I didn’t want to not train hard or make trouble and have the other guys kind of lose that just because we’re friends. I think we had a great time the last three years. Different situations I’ve been in, only really one time was it kind of a little bit interesting, but for the most part, I deal a lot with Tom or the goalkeeping coach and whatever club I’m at then I ever have to do with the head coaches or team administrators or stuff like that. If I have a great relationship with my goalkeeping coach it sure makes coming into work nice every day. Like I said, when he’s been a friend for 25 years it makes a little bit easier.”

(Are you concerned you might get bored?) “That’s a possibility. I’ll definitely be supporting Drew watching ‘The Price is Right’ a little bit more often. I’ve got some morbid curiosity with the Maury Povich show — I don’t know why. My wife (hassles) me about that. But I have a funny feeling that things are going to be pretty busy and I’m looking forward to that next thing. But at the same time, there’s definitely things I’m not going to miss. I’m not going to miss the stress of preparing for a game. I’m not going to miss that night game on a Saturday at 8 o’ clock and that whole day of nothingness and nervous energy before you get out to the field. I’m not going to miss coming back to a locker room after I just threw one into my own net and having to talk to you guys, I’ll tell you that. I’m not going to miss that. I’m truly going to miss hanging out with the guys and being a part of success. It’s always when you come in and winning is great. Everybody loves it. It makes a huge difference. I’m not going to say, ‘Oh, I just loved being out there and having people chant my name,’ and all that kind of stuff, but there is a definitely a buzz when you’re out in front of a big crowd and you’re successful. I’ll miss that. Bored? Probably at times, but I’m sure my wife will have plenty of jobs around the house for me to do.”

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Here’s the video from SoundersFC.com

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What will you miss most when it comes to the captain?

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