The Great Escape season will go down as a few months of our lives that we will never forget. One of the unsung heroes from that dramatic turnaround was Kasey Keller between the sticks. Daniel Smith spoke to Kasey about his memories of that season and experience of playing for the club…
DS – Did you always want to be a Goalkeeper, or did you start off as an outfield player?
KK – I started as an outfield player, but at a young age, everyone took turns in goal. Around age 12 I started concentrating on goalkeeping.
DS – How did you get the opportunity to sign for Millwall and was it easy to adjust to the English lifestyle?
KK – I had a lot of former English pros as coaches, and they had the connections that got me a trial when I was finishing university. I didn’t really have any problems adjusting to the life in England, being in London definitely helped. My girlfriend/future wife moved over later that year which also help tremendously.
DS – How did the move to Fulham materialise and what appealed to you about the transfer?
KK – I was packing up in Germany and watching the Premier League highlights and saw that my good friend, Brian McBride had been injured in the game and I gave him a call to see if he was ok. He mentioned to the coaching staff that I was available, and two days later I was on a plane to England.
DS – You signed for us ahead of what would become the ‘Great Escape’ and at the start of that season you only played in dribs and drabs. But it was the last 10 games where you cemented your place in the side, a run that saw us accumulate 17 points. It took us 28 games to get to 19 points so this run really was amazing in the circumstances. What do you think changed for this to happen because I’m sure a lot of fans would say that you are an unsung hero from that season?
KK – I had won the starting position early in the season, but then blew my shoulder out, so that is why I didn’t play for 4 months. It took time to win the position back again. I think the run of form coincided with a few things. Roy had some time to make adjustments. Brian was fit, there was good team spirit, and sometimes you just need a little luck.
DS – Did the team know at HT in the Man City game that we were ‘technically’ relegated and what was said in the Half Time team talk?
KK – It was a tough game, I don’t remember what was said, we all knew that something drastically needed to change.
DS – Do you remember your double save just after half-time because that was a major turning point in the comeback and do you agree that saves such as these are often forgotten with the goals making the headlines?
KK – I knew we had to take more chances to get back in the game, so I knew I would probably have to make more saves. Yes sometimes they can be forgotten, and if we hadn’t scored the goals, my saves wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Some of the best games I’ve ever had, I’ve lost. It’s nice when you can make the saves and help contribute to a win.
DS – Do you have a favourite match on that run and if different, which result do you think was the turning point?
KK – The away win over Reading was key, obviously the Man City game was huge. The final day at Portsmouth, knowing we had to win.
DS – What was your relationship like with both Lawrie Sanchez and Roy Hodgson?
KK – I had good relationships with both. Lawrie signed me and gave me the chance to earn the starting spot. Dave Beasant was there with Lawrie, and I think was one of the reasons I was signed in the first place as we had a great relationship and had known each other for years. I had a good relationship with Roy and Mike Kelly as well. After injury, they gave me the opportunity to get back into the side and help the team stay up.
DS – What did Roy change?
KK – Attention to detail and organization of a team defensive shape that we really worked on.
DS – Which was stronger at Fulham, the keepers union or the USA union?
KK – Both were great. Tony, Antti, and I worked great together. Having fellow national team players at your club team is always fun. If it wasn’t for Brian, I never would have been there to start with.
DS – Who were your closest pals at Fulham and do you still keep in touch with anyone?
KK – Brian and I were always roommates on the National Team, and he is still one of my closest friends. We went to Carlos’ wedding a couple of years ago, and get together for a drink when he is in town.
DS – Given the impact you made on the team and the fact it all ended on a high. Why did you not stay on at Fulham?
KK – Fulham made a good offer to stay, but it was as a backup role. They had an opportunity to bring in Schwarzer who was a little younger and offered them a longer-term solution. I didn’t want to be a backup, and I was looking at other offers, and had a opportunity to come home to Seattle. I greatly appreciated Fulham’s honesty, but if they had said they had wanted me to stay as the number one, I would’ve stayed.
DS – It’s not a role I hear credited much so I’m curious to ask. Which goalkeeping coach got the best out of you during your career and why.
KK – When I started my career in England, most teams didn’t have a dedicated goalkeeping coach. I was lucky to have great training as a young player. My youth goalkeeping coach, Rob Walker had a big influence on my development. Northern Ireland international Bill Irwin was my goalkeeping coach at university. Then coming to Fulham to work with Mike Kelly was really full circle, as he was one of the coaches I trained with as a kid at camp in the US, along with other greats Paul Barron and Joe Corrigan.I really enjoyed working with several of my goalkeeping coaches. I enjoyed training with Carmelo del Pozo in Spain, and Hans Segers at Spurs. I also had a great relationship Uwe Kamps at Gladbach and I really liked his training style. I always liked to be pushed in training. Of course Dave Beasant as well, until he left with Lawrie.
When I returned home, one of my childhood friends, Tom Dutra was the goalkeeping coach for the Sounders. We grew up with the same philosophies and he made going to work my last few years as a player a great experience.
DS – I’ve been told to ask about your love for heavy metal music, is there a particular band that are your favourite and was you ever allowed to take charge of the dressing room music, how did the other players react to it?
KK – When I did take control of the music, it didn’t last long. Tool, Disturbed, Soulfly, Slipknot to name a few. It was great having a ally in Antti.
DS – What was your favourite moment representing your country and given the fact that most of the keepers in the US squad played in England, was there plenty of banter regarding who was the number one?
KK – So many it’s difficult to say. Probably the game against Brazil in the 1998 Gold Cup, the only time we’ve ever beaten them. The Italy game in the 2006 World Cup, the only team to take points off them in the WC playing a man down. Yes, but we all got along, and for most of the time, I was the number one.
DS – What are you up to now?
KK – After I finished my career at the Seattle Sounders, the club I supported as a boy, I made a cool transition into broadcasting, working both for the Sounders and ESPN.
DS – And Finally Kasey, pie or pasty, which filling?
KK – Fruit pie is my go to.