clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Kasey Keller reflects on his pioneering past

Although Keller is no longer employed by the Sounders, his impact on the organization will likely be felt forever.

MLS: LA Galaxy at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Whether you loved or hated Kasey Keller as a Sounders broadcaster, it’s impossible to deny his place in club history. Not only was his signing ahead of the 2009 season a signal of intent from the new MLS franchise, but he was an inarguably massive part of how they came out of the gates and won U.S. Open Cups in each of his first three seasons. He also earned MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honors in his final season.

But Keller made an even longer-lasting mark by serving as the team’s color announcer on TV broadcasts from 2012-2022. During those 11 seasons, Keller barely a missed a game despite also working fulltime for ESPN, and his commentary accompanies many of the greatest moments in club history.

Keller’s penchant for criticizing defenders more than praising offensive brilliance and his insistence on remaining objective sometimes rubbed fans the wrong way, but his honesty was never questioned.

Although Keller is no longer on the Sounders broadcast — a casualty of the move to AppleTV — he was still more than happy to spend well over an hour with us where we talked about his current position with ESPN, his time with the Sounders as player and broadcaster, his journey from the South Sound to Europe, and many other things.

Here are some of the highlights from the interview, the full version of which is available only to paid subscribers of our Substack:

Says he’ll miss calling Sounders games

Keller said he was more than happy to keep calling Sounders games, but that Apple wanted him to be able to fly all over the country wherever he was needed. That wasn’t really feasible as he’s now calling La Liga and Bundesliga games on ESPN virtually every weekend.

“It would have basically eliminated my ESPN contract. It’s a shame because I would have been excited to continue.”

He also considered staying with the Sounders for radio broadcasts, but that would have only paid about “5-10%” of what he was getting before while effectively doing the same work.

Although this wasn't how he wanted it to end, Keller didn’t sound upset and looks back on his time in the booth very fondly.

“The Sounders had a national broadcast that was just shown locally. It was very professional. It was impressive. I learned with [ESPN’s] Bob Ley and Mike Tirrico, so I worked some pros and cut my teeth with some pros and there was not much of a drop doing Sounders broadcasts.”

Keller also seems at least vaguely aware that he wasn’t every fan’s cup of tea and that his commentary could sometimes be a bit divisive. He said he simply accepts that it comes with the territory.

“You just do your job. If you’re looking for someone to tell you how good or bad you are, you’re in a lot of trouble. … Most fans don’t want to be patronized. You do the game the right way and what I loved was we did games in the right way. … You have to have nuances when you’re doing a local broadcast, but you still have to be objective. If you lose your objectively you lose your credibility.”

As you might expect, Keller is at least a little skeptical about the league’s decision to effectively abandon broadcast TV.

“I’m a little bit nervous with the Apple deal. You’re a growing league and you’re trying to get more eyes on your product, to put it behind the paywall you’re losing the casual fan who can become the fan. They’re not paying $100 to become a diehard. I’m nervous what that will do for the viewing numbers. There are a lot of clubs that have struggled to get eyes on their product. It’s going to be tricky.”

A true American pioneer

When Kasey Keller was finished playing for the University of Portland in 1991, he was sent into a world where there was no American professional outdoor soccer league. It was also literally unprecedented at that time for an American to play in England without a European passport. At the time, there wasn’t even an established process for getting a work permit and he ended up being the test case.

Keller not only managed to get a contract with second-division Millwall, but would establish himself as a starter in relatively short order. He would go on to make nearly 600 appearances during 18 seasons playing in England, Germany and Spain.

Helping pave the way were a bunch of Englishmen who either played in the NASL or at least trusted people who had played here. One of them was Bruce Rioch, a former NASL Sounder who was the manager at Millwall who signed Keller and gave him his first opportunity.

“When it came time to go over, there were a lot of inquiries made in England and lot of those coaches didn’t know me, but they knew the level of the American player was better than they were getting credited for. They had witnessed it and trusted the guys who were here when they said they needed to see a player.”

That didn’t exactly open the floodgates for Americans in Europe. When Keller eventually moved to Rayo Vallecano in 1999, he became the first American to play at Barcelona’s Camp Nou. It was nearly 15 years until another American managed to do that.

“There’s a level of hubris and arrogance you have to have as a professional athlete. I was 15 and giving up the other American sports. My dad pitched at Washington State and was drafted very late. He was really questioning why I was choosing a sport without a professional league in our country. The arrogance of youth at 15 or 16, ‘Dad don’t worry. My plan is to go to Europe and preferably England.’ No person had ever done that and I was just proclaiming it.”

Knew coming to Seattle was right choice

By Keller’s estimation, when the opportunity to come to MLS presented itself, he had spent much more time in London than Seattle. Still, it felt like home in part because it was the first time his friends and family could watch him play professionally in person without needing to fly across the world.

He had been warned by many former teammates that coming to MLS was going to be a challenge, that the standards were just not what he was used to. But with the Sounders’ partnership with the Seattle Seahawks that never turned out to be a problem, thanks to the efforts of people like Tod Leiweke and Gary Wright.

By the time Keller headed home from the Sounders’ first MLS game against the New York Red Bulls, he knew he had made the right decision.

“Seeing 27,000, winning 3-0, the buzz and everything that came with it. Not to have been there for that first game, I couldn’t imagine.”

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Sounder At Heart Weekly Roundup newsletter!

A twice weekly roundup of Seattle Sounders and OL Reign news from Sounder at Heart