Kasey Keller

Former Player Remembers: Kasey Keller, Part Two

Between 1996 and 1999, goalkeeper Kasey Keller played 125 games for Premier League side Leicester City.
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In part one of this interview, Kasey spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about growing up in the United States, being selected for his national team and winning the League Cup with Leicester City.

In this final edition, the former USA goalkeeper talks more about his time at City, playing in La Liga, the Bundesliga, the MLS and being inducted into the US Soccer Hall of Fame.

He also mentions his current media career. In the summer of 1996, Martin O’Neill signed Kasey from Millwall for Leicester City, who had just been promoted back to the Premier League for a fee which was structured to rise to £900,000.

Explaining how his move to Filbert Street came about, Kasey said: “Well, it was kind of crazy! The previous season in the first week of December, we were playing Birmingham City away. We were both in the top two of the table. Soon afterwards (Millwall manager) Mick McCarthy ended up becoming the manager of the Republic of Ireland. After that we went on absolutely horrific run and ended up getting relegated to the third tier in the last game of the season.

I went and had some really great conversations with Martin. I really understood his confidence and his plan. He also had confidence in me.

Kasey Keller

“I was supposed to go to either Everton or Nottingham Forest, but things didn’t quite work out the way they supposed to... or maybe they did! Then, in the end, I just remember getting a phone call from the chief executive telling me that Millwall had agreed terms with Leicester City and that I was to go to the Midlands for negotiation.

“I went and had some really great conversations with Martin. I really understood his confidence and his plan. He also had confidence in me. He convinced me that Leicester wouldn’t be relegated by Christmas. He said that the team was much better than that and it would surprise a lot of people. Having played at Filbert Street, I knew it was a club with great support and I was excited for the opportunity to see if I could perform in the Premier League as well as I had in the Championship.

“In retrospect, I might have been a little worried that Leicester might only be in the Premier League for a year, but I had confidence in myself and after speaking to Martin, I had confidence in Leicester City and what we hoped for came to happen."

Kasey’s first taste of Premier League football was his Leicester City debut at Sunderland in August 1996.

“I remember the opening two games well,” Kasey recalled. “We got a nice clean sheet away from home at Sunderland and then we picked up three points at home against Southampton. Getting off to a good start like that gives everybody confidence from the very beginning, especially getting points on the road and we just went on from there. We never went on a losing streak. We never lost three of four games in a row. We always consistently picked up points and that was the real key to our success.”

During Kasey’s first season at Filbert Street, not only did Leicester City finish ninth and win the League Cup, they also qualified for the UEFA Cup. In those days, this was a knockout competition. Leicester City were drawn against Atletico Madrid, as Kasey remembered.

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Kasey Keller

City's UEFA Cup campaign was cut short by Atlético Madrid.

He added: “The European tie was really frustrating. We went to the Vicente Calderón Stadium and lost 2-1 but we played better than that score indicates. We still felt that with the away goal we could beat Atlético 2-0 at home, but in the home leg we were very disappointed with the refereeing standard. This kind of took the match away from us. We lost 2-0. We could have accepted going out with a fight which was reflective of our performance, but we went out because of some poor refereeing decisions. That game will always be marred by those decisions, but in the end we were proud of what we did and if things had been a little different we could have represented England very well in that competition.

“We were back at Wembley for the League Cup Final against Tottenham two years later. That was frustrating too. We were playing very well and were the better side on the day. It looked as though it was going to go to extra-time. It could’ve gone either way, but they scored right at the end.

“The thing I really loved about my three years at Leicester wasn’t just about two cup finals or surviving in the Premier League. It was finishing in the top half of the Premier League three years in a row. We performed every year. I remember some great FA Cup games as well. I was most proud of all of this in that time at Leicester.”

Another source of pride for Kasey was playing for his country, which would necessitate transatlantic flights during the season.

I made a double save from a point-blank header. Then I’m on the ground with the ball with Romario kind of standing over me. He doesn’t know what to do, so he just shakes my hand, in the middle of the game!

Kasey Keller

“I missed a few games for Leicester,” Kasey continued. “Because of the poor scheduling, that CONCACAF (the Confederation of North, Central and Caribbean Association Football) had at the time which didn’t fall within the FIFA schedule. I’m happy that this was changed and it wasn’t an issue after 1998.

“This scheduling meant that I could be playing for Leicester at, for example, Sunderland on a cold Wednesday night and then ending up two days later training in 90 degree humidity in Miami getting ready to play a game in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras or Mexico in 80 to 90 degree heat. Then I would fly back to Leicester!”

It was during Kasey’s time at Leicester that his performance in the USA’s 1-0 victory over Brazil in the 1998 CONCACAF Gold Cup Semi-Final prompted Brazil’s Romario, the star of the 1994 World Cup and the 1994 IFA World Player of the Year to remark that Kasey’s performance that day was the best performance by a goalkeeper that he had ever seen.

“That was nice” Kasey reflected. “It was in Los Angeles in the New Year. They always show that clip on social media on the anniversary of that game. I made a double save from a point-blank header. Then I’m on the ground with the ball with Romario kind of standing over me. He doesn’t know what to do, so he just shakes my hand, in the middle of the game!”

In July 1999, despite his three successful seasons at Filbert Street, which fulfilled his ambition to play in the Premier League, Kasey made the decision to move to Rayo Vallecano, newly promoted to Spain’s La Liga.

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Kasey Keller

Keller's time in Spain allowed him to experience a new culture.

“It was something my wife and I had always talked about”, Kasey explained. "We wanted to take advantage of all of the different opportunities that came our way and see different things. It would have been easy to stay at Leicester and there were other opportunities in England, but going to Rayo Vallecano was a new challenge. It meant winning over a new set of fans, and experiencing a new country, a new league and new challenge. I was the first American to play in La Liga and I’m still the only American to ever consistently play in Spain.

“After our first 16 games we were one point ahead of Barcelona in first place. In my second season, we lost in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup. I really enjoyed myself in Spain, but whilst I was there the foreign player quota dropped from five to three. I still had my British residency so I was able to go back to England and join Tottenham in August 2001.

“Whilst in Spain, my Spanish was a little slower than it might have been but we have a lot of Latin press in America and I would do interviews in Spanish for the national team. When I went to Tottenham, I would spend time on the bus with Gus Poyet and Mauricio Taricco and my Spanish continued to improve. Even when I went to Germany to play for Borussia Monchengladbach (in January 2005) there were several players who were either Portuguese, Brazilian or Latin American and I would speak Spanish to them, as we didn’t speak German.”

While at White Hart Lane, Kasey played every minute in the 2002/03 and 2003/04 seasons, totalling 99 games for Tottenham before moving to the Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach in January 2005.

His seven clean sheets played an important part in preventing relegation. His team-mates selected him as captain for the following season, making him only the second American, after Claudio Reyna to captain atop level German Club.

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Kasey Keller

The American continues to show his very best for Spurs.

“Monchengladbach is a huge club”, Kasey continued. “ It was great to be club captain and have great relationships there. I lived in a castle near Monchengladbach which had been built by the Franks which was a cool experience.

“At the end of my second season there I came back (in August 2007) to finish my European career with Fulham and was part of one of the best relegation escapes in history. We won four of our last five games. We knew had to win our last game against Portsmouth. They were FA Cup finalists and rested a few players. We kept a clean sheet, Danny Murphy nicked a goal and we stayed up.”

After a year at Fulham, Kasey then returned to the USA after 17 seasons of playing in Europe.

“It was one of those tricky decisions that have to be made”, Kasey reflected. "If I stayed at Fulham it would have been in a back-up role. I was very close to going back to Germany with Bayern Munich. Then the opportunity came up for me to go back home, not just to America but to Seattle, which was truly my home, and be part of Seattle Sounders, a new franchise just starting in the MLS. I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity for me to finish my career. Seattle average 40,000 crowds. The extension of the franchise was a huge boost for MLS and a big boost for the continued growth of the sport in America.”

At Seattle Sounders, Kasey set a record for the most minutes without conceding a goal to start a season in MLS history. He was an Open Cup winner in 2009, 2010 and 2011. His final game for Seattle Sounders was a 2-1 victory over San Jose Earthquakes in front of a crowd of over 64,000 in October 2011.

I still find myself on BBC Radio 5 Live quite a lot in the morning, particularly a couple of years ago when Leicester and Spurs were battling it out for the title.

Kasey Keller

In 2015, Kasey was inducted into the US Soccer Hall of Fame. This honour recognised the fact that, in addition to his club career at the highest level in England, Spain, Germany and USA, Kasey had a distinguished international career.

He was an under-20 international in 1989, went to the World Cup finals in 1990, 1998, 2002 and 2006 and he played in the 1996 US Olympic team.

He was a CONCACAF Gold Cup winner in 2002, 2005 and 2007, a runner-up in 1998 and achieved third place in 1996 and 2003. In total he won 102 caps for his country between 1990 and 2007.

Referring to his induction, Kasey said: "I think you have to be retired for four years before you become eligible. It was cool to be recognised like this for what I’ve been able to do.”

Kasey is currently involved with media work, as he explained: “I have a contract with Seattle as a regional broadcast partner for the Sounders and do all of their games. In addition I have a contract to do a bunch of events like the national team and marquee MLS games. I was doing some Nations League stuff last month with ESPN. I was invited to the FA box at Wembley for the recent match between England and the USA just to talk to people, and I still find myself on BBC Radio 5 Live quite a lot in the morning, particularly a couple of years ago when Leicester and Spurs were battling it out for the title.

"I’ve also done some studio work on Spanish football for Sky. The combination of the two contracts is perfect as it keeps me in the local scene with the Sounders and then nationally relevant with the rest. It’s been a fun transition.”

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