Commentary

Kasey Keller talks the hazards of the Hexagonal, plus TV, fishing, and Sounders' chances to repeat

Former U.S. international goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who accrued 102 caps from 1990 to 2007, is working for ESPN this week and will be in Orlando for the crucial Hexagonal game against Panama.

Since he retired from the Sounders in 2011 he’s worked as a broadcaster for the team and during the reign of former U.S. national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann served as an assistant coach. The native of Lacey, Washington, lives in Seattle with his wife Kristin and their son Cameron. Daughter Chloe is studying at Northeastern University.


Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images

USA's World Cup qualifying campaign. We’ve been out-executed.’
 
As a professional player, there’s two things you can control: effort and attitude. Neither of them seemed to be at the forefront for the U.S. team, at the Costa Rica game in particular. That’s the frustrating side.

After that, there’s a point where you have to execute and you have to execute on both sides. You have to reduce individual mistakes and you have to make plays on both sides of the ball.

So far in the qualifying campaign -- regardless of the manager, regardless of the players on the field -- in the big games, we’ve been out-executed.

If you look at how the U.S. has qualified during the last few campaigns, when the U.S. has needed players to step up and perform  on big occasions when that result was needed, the players found a way to get it done. This qualifying campaign, it hasn’t worked out that way, and they’ve got two games to get that right.
 
Olympic failures carrying over to the senior team. ‘A generational change.’
 
We didn’t qualify for the last two Olympics. That should be the core of the players qualifying for this World Cup. We haven’t been good enough at the under-23 level in the last eight years and those are the players who are pushing to get there. We’ve seen in Concacaf at those age groups, those players are transitioning to the [senior] teams and other teams in Concacaf have been better than us.

Maybe there’s a generational change coming. From Bob [Bradley] to Jurgen to Bruce [Arena], it hasn’t been like they haven’t been trying different combinations and using different players. It’s the same guys because nobody’s pushed them out. It’s not because nobody’s gotten a chance, it’s because nobody’s taken the job from them, besides Christian [Pulisic].

There’s a reason DaMarcus Beasley is still in the squad, and a debate as to whether Clint [Dempsey] should be starting. Where are the 26-year-olds and 28-year-olds? Well they didn’t qualify for the Olympics and therefore they’re not good enough in Concacaf. That’s a harsh reality of pro sports, that there’s a point in time where there is no sentiment.

Mexico should not have qualified for the last World Cup. If Mexico can’t qualify out of Concacaf, then why would the U.S. have a given right? You don’t and you’re going to have those issues and those times when you haven’t had players do what they needed to do.
 
Making time to hunt and fish along with the TV work. ‘They don’t call it catching.’
 
I’ve been fishing a lot actually. You brought up a sore subject. The lake that I live on, Lake Washington, opened up a Coho [salmon] season and they’re really hard to catch on the lake. We went out the last couple of days with a buddy of mine and he caught one and I lost one a couple of days ago and yesterday I had one right at the boat and my line broke. I’m still pissed.

That’s why they don’t call it catching, they call it fishing. Now the season’s over. The bass season’s over, too, but I had a very good bass season. I’ll admit that. Caught a lot of big bass.
 
Doing Sounders games as well as ESPN assignments. ‘It’s a good combination.’
 
I hired straight into the broadcast crew when I retired from the Sounders, and then I had to try and figure out on the national side. It was a decision between Fox and ESPN and I was very happy with the opportunities both of them gave me. Because I was doing every game for Seattle, the schedule with ESPN and the national team just kind of synced better.

When the season starts in March, I’m working every weekend until December. You are busy on the weekends but you do have some flexibility in the middle of the week to manipulate your schedule, which is nice. It’s a good combination.
 
The difficulties of defending a title. ‘Staying there is the hard part.’
 
We’ve seen it consistently and not just in our sport; the difficulties of following up a championship run and the hangover that comes. You’re going to lose players and there are going to be players who want more money or more playing time.

I remember sitting down and having a conversation with John Schneider, general manager of the Seahawks, after they won the Super Bowl, and I said to him, ‘John I’ve always heard that getting to the top is easy, staying there is the hard part.’

And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s amazing how many people knocked on my door and pointed out if it hadn’t been for this play at this time in the season we never would have got there and therefore I deserve this incremental raise.’

This is what John and I were joking about. There’s no salary cap in Europe so if you have to come up with the extra money, you come up with the money.

In MLS, you have to make decisions and the teams that aren’t successful get more allocation money and are able to do things, and your players are saying, ‘We won a championship and I was a big reason and therefore I should be paid accordingly.’ It’s frustrating and it’s tough and I think the Sounders went through a little bit of that the first three or four months, figuring out where they could go and where they couldn’t.

They’ve made some good acquisitions when they found some areas of weakness and when players got injured. I think Kelvin Leerdam has been a great acquisition and I think Victor Rodriguez has helped as well.


 
Where MLS and its teams stand as businesses. ‘You can’t force it.’
 
Stability is the key. You can’t be the Premier League overnight.

You can’t force it. You can’t overspend and put yourself into financial trouble just because you think you have to compete with whomever. You can’t do that. You have to be who you are and do it the right way.
You look the blueprint of Europe and you see these clubs that are institutions and these leagues that are world entities, and the way they do things and the buzz of it. But at the same time, you have to understand that most of our business owners are American business owners who have friends and family members who are sports owners in the other U.S. leagues.

Just the concept of spending millions of dollars to join a league and then not being a member of that league is just so foreign to their mindset. So I completely understand the reasons for no relegation.
 
Tweaking the MLS playoffs to enhance the regular season. ‘There’s no right answer.’
 
Now what you can do is reduce the number of playoff games and playoff teams to make the regular season more important. Kind of like baseball. You don’t have relegation but if you have a terrible start to the season, you’re not going to make the playoffs unless you do something spectacular because the regular season matters.

We all have different opinions about how to make things more relevant but having been in relegation fights, I’ll tell you there’s no better way for players to have experiences that will best prepare them for the next two World Cup qualifiers. So I understand it on both sides. There’s no right answer, there’s no wrong answer.

6 comments about "Kasey Keller talks the hazards of the Hexagonal, plus TV, fishing, and Sounders' chances to repeat".
  1. Ben Myers, October 4, 2017 at 10:55 a.m.

    We’ve been out-executed.’ That's a polite way of saying that Costa Rica and Mexico have been superior to the USMNT both technically and tactically.  Now to ask why.  It is the dearth of programs in the US to develop elite players, with MLS being among the guilty parties.

  2. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, October 4, 2017 at 1:15 p.m.

    So in prior cycles, when we beat those teams, we were doing a great job developing elite players?  Mexico and CR haven't been better than us historically.  You can't make broad generalizations about the game in this country based on a few national team games.  

  3. Chuck Redding, October 4, 2017 at 12:50 p.m.

    good article...I disagree with Casey about relagation. With new Soccer markets exploding throughout the country. Instead of picking 4 cities, MLS should take all newcomer and form league 2 and grow from there in to 4 divisions like the English football league. 2 or 3 years of growth...then you can start a relagation system. MLS (Don Garber) only justifies the big money power pay to play which is an American Concept. I feel this attitude is not whats best for growing Professional American Soccer. Another version of "penny wise and pound foolish."

  4. Fire Paul Gardner Now, October 4, 2017 at 1:21 p.m.

    I don't agree with this statement about the Olympics.  That tournament is not a big deal in most parts of the world.  But he's right about the generational thing.  There aren't that many guys in the USMNT who are really in their prime, which I consider to between ages 24-28.  If you look at the current squad, there are only a handful of guys born between 1989-1993.  That generation of players barely produced anyone of note. 

    If you look at Mexico's current squad, they have tons of guys born in that timeframe.  I think that's the difference.  We have younger guys coming up, but in the meantime, we are stuck with a lot of guys who would have been pushed out by now under normal circumstances.  

  5. Ridge Mahoney replied, October 5, 2017 at 12:03 a.m.

    If you see the emphasis placed by other Concacaf nations for youth tournaments and Mexico winning an Olympic gold medal, Keller's reference is spot on. Europe may not regard Olympic soccer as important but other confederations certainly do. Gold medals: Spain (host) 1992, Nigeria 1996, Cameroon 2000, Argentina 2004 and 2008, Mexico 2012, and Brazil (host) 2016. 

  6. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, October 5, 2017 at 10:03 a.m.

    That's true Ridge.  I guess my lack of interest in that tournament is that I personally don't care much about it.  That doesn't really matter to anyone else, nor should it!

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