Kasey Keller remains the rare gentleman keeper

By Paul Gardner

Turning on my television to watch the Dallas vs. D.C.United game on Saturday, I was immediately surprised -- shocked, even -- to see that Josh Wicks was on the field, the starting goalkeeper for D.C.

Here was a player who -- in his previous two games, with only three days between them -- had attempted to assault one of his own teammates (indeed, maybe did assault him, defender Marc Burch), and had then gone on, during the Open Cup final to get himself red-carded for stomping on the Sounders' Fredy Montero.

If Wicks did assault Burch -- a hefty shove would come under that definition, I think -- that's a red-card offense, too. Makes no difference that the shove is directed at a teammate -- the rules are clear on that: "He is also guilty of violent conduct if he uses excessive force or brutality against a teammate ..." And the punishment for violent conduct is a red card.

In that incident, the referee was Kevin Stott, and he chose to over-look the incident as other D.C.United players arrived quickly to separate Wicks and Burch.

The stomping incident -- maybe it's the "alleged stomping incident" -- looked a lot clearer and a lot nastier. Wicks, of course, argued against the red card call, but off he went at the 69th minute, and D.C. United's chances of winning the Open Cup went with him.

Thinking about all of this, I seemed to vaguely recall that MLS has an automatic suspension for a red card -- but not in the next game.

So be it. By then my thoughts had passed on to the wider and more alarming topic of goalkeeper behavior in general. I have no thoughts about Wicks as a goalkeeper -- I assume he's pretty good -- he certainly made a couple of remarkable saves in the Open Cup final (though I should point out that two of those saves were made with his feet, which leaves me wondering why we need someone standing there who is empowered to use his hands -- I have to assume that any field player can make kick saves).

But however good a goalkeeper Wicks may be, his recent behavior presents an appalling picture -- an accurate portrait, really, of just how far goalkeepers have sunk when it comes to acting like sportsmen.

The growth of the goalkeeper cult began, as far as I can see, sometime in the 1970s. Suddenly -- or more likely it had been happening slowly, unnoticed for quite a while -- the goalkeeper became an increasingly strident and noisy element of the game. Egged on by the growing army of "technical" coaches who found it clever to invent a whole range of new functions for the goalkeeper (remember the "sweeper-keeper"?) goalkeepers began to take themselves very seriously indeed. No more modest, likeable, Mr. Nice Guy. No more picking the ball out of the net after letting in a goal -- leave that to someone else. But plenty of theatrics and screaming at teammates, plenty of making it clear that whatever went wrong in the defense, it wasn't the goalkeeper's fault.

It's not a big step from self-importance to arrogance, and goalkeepers made that advance some time ago. The next step, from arrogance to bullying has come and gone, and now we have -- from Josh Wicks - proof that another stage has been reached. Hopefully the final one, before some sort of sanity returns. The bullying behavior toward their own teammates has now become downright loutish.

None of this behavior is necessary, none of it. The game got along very nicely for decades without obnoxious, know-it-all, yelling goalkeepers. Goalkeepers who never make mistakes, of course. Goalkeepers who scream at their defenders repeatedly throughout a game -- but who are left mercifully uncriticized when they screw things up.

I'm not against that last bit -- goalkeepers' errors are likely to be serious, best not to indulge in public recriminations. So why can't the keepers return that thought and shut up when they see, or believe they see (or, more likely, want the TV audience to imagine that they have detected) defensive frailties. Their "wisdom" is virtually all post facto , anyway.

During that Open Cup final, how much more pleasant to cast one's eyes away from Wicks' disagreeable behavior, down to the other end of the field, where Kasey Keller reigned. If there be such a genre in the world of soccer as a Gentleman Goalkeeper, then Keller must be one of the few remaining examples.
5 comments about "Kasey Keller remains the rare gentleman keeper".
  1. William Coleman, September 7, 2009 at 11:24 a.m.

    I agree with using Wicks as an example of distasteful sportsmanship. He was very quiet in Saturday night's game against FC Dallas.

    Wouldn't the article have been better if 90% of it had centered upon Kasey Keller's exemplar behavior, instead of only the last sentences? Broadcast more about the good, not the trash.

  2. beautiful game, September 7, 2009 at 1:41 p.m.

    Wicks definitely needs to undergo anger management therapy. As Paul Gardner hinted, Wicks was eligible to be red carded for his confrontation with Burch. IMHO, Keller should have received kudos in a separate article with Wicks being mentioned as an afterthought for his unprofessional behavior.

  3. Kent James, September 7, 2009 at 2:06 p.m.

    Good article, but I agree with Coleman and Nowozeniuk that more should have been made of Keller's good behavior. Keller has always been a class act, and defenses (entire teams even) respond well to the kind of mature, rational, positive leadership he provides. If only more players (and especially goal keepers) would follow his example. Assigning blame for goals scored against your team should take place in the film room, where the team can better figure out what went wrong, rather than (as Gardner so accurately points out) the demonstrative shouting that insecure keepers use as an attempt to publicly deflect blame.

  4. James Stroud, September 7, 2009 at 2:09 p.m.

    I completely agree with William. Other than your post on the horrible murder of the South African player (probably the most memorable story I have read in any soccer forum) you are always bitching about something. All the while USA football continues to grow, improve, inspire, and excite.

    Besides Keller I give you the USL 1's Dusty Hudock of the Charleston Battery. Tough, fearless, but never dirty, Hudock is the team's captain and true leader. He does scream at his defenders but is also their greatest cheerleader. Although he leads his team in all time minutes played he is usually the first at practice and the last to leave and is known for teaching younger team mates. In his spare time he coaches youth soccer, trains young keepers, and finds time to be a great husband and father.

    When Brian McBride was bloodied a few years ago with the USMNT I don't recall you chastising all defenders. Do you plan to call for a ban on all forwards the next time a striker flops?

    Wick's assault was a criminal act and should be dealt with as such. All of your other observations were completely wrong. I see professional confidence in pro keepers, you see arrogance. And your idea that keepers are not blamed for their mistakes publically or in private is ridiculous...they are the only players who are expected to be perfect every time.

  5. Robert Reeves, September 7, 2009 at 10:52 p.m.

    Good point, Paul. I certainly agree that some of your songs have been sung many times, but this was a new one and needed to be heard. You never shy away from a point that needs to be made, and I trust you to call 'em as you see them. Thanks.

    Wicks is unfortunately not the only example you might have mentioned. I am thinking of Mr. Matt (I am going to be tougher than everyone else on the field, put together) Reis. So far as I know, Alecko Eskandarian never received even a hint of an insincere apology when Reis put him out of the game for 9 months, only a statement that Alecko wasn't tough enough. Alecko replied in the best possible way: got himself back into the game and scored on Reis for the opening goal in a game tough boy couldn't win.

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