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The Sitter: Kasey Keller on Soccer in America and Damn Good Whiskey

FBM's Dan trying to play “journalist” with Keller.

During the 2013 Major League Soccer All-Star game in Kansas City we had a chance to sit down with Kasey Keller who's soccer resume over his 17 year career is most impressive (USMNT, Portland Timbers, Milwall, Leiscester City, Rayo Vallecano, Tottenham, Borussia Monchengladbach, Fulham, and retiring with the Seattle Sounders). Nearly as impressive is his love and knowledge of whiskey.

Much thanks to Castrol USA for the opportunity to speak with Mr. Keller.

Free Beer Movement: You've obviously been a huge part of American soccer and American soccer history; a huge pioneer here and in Europe before many others. How do you feel like the sport has changed over your career?

Kasey Keller: For me I started youth national teams in he mid-80s. I was fortunately to go to two Youth World Cups in 87 and 89. I was a young goalkeeper first and then it was my time second. We were the first American team to reach the semi-finals of a FIFA tournament and I was the first American player to be recognize with a Silver Ball (for a tournaments second best player). To see that side early on and to see that things were moving the in the right direction. From there I moved on to the full national team and started traveling.

I remember trying to qualify for '90 (the 1990 World Cup) playing in St. Louis Soccer Park trying to get 5,000 fans to come to the game and try and get some sort of atmosphere that was going to help the team qualify. Going to '90 with a bunch of amateurs competing for a federation that hadn't been to a World Cup in 40 years…

It was a starting point where now you look at it and really can't believe where the team's progressed. It's an amazing progression over a very short period of time. Now it's the hard part. Now it's taking the next percentage steps to catch up with the countries that have predominant controlled the sport.

FBM: Talk about your experience helping out the National Team for the Gold Cup after Chris Woods departed (Woods, moved from Everton to Manchester United with manager David Moyes, and was temporarily unavailable for the Gold Cup). Does Jurgen just call up and ask if you have a spare few minutes?

KK: (Laughs). Yeah. It was a case where he called me before the Gold Cup started and asked if I could help out in the quarterfinals through the finals when Chris Woods moved to Man U. This time of year is really difficult. Even if he would've stay at Everton it would've been impossible to come and work this tournament. It's one of those tricky situations that Jurgen was happy to bring in a few new people. Sounders were fantastic in letting me miss a few games and be a part of the Gold Cup. It was fun to continue to see different things and do different things in this so-called retirement of mine.

FBM: You have a very active retirement!

KK: I do! Which is cool.

FBM: What's changed? What's different under Klinsmann?

KK: It's hard. When Jurgen came in there was this big fanfare. A much higher price tag for a U.S. manager than there had been in the past. There was some ideal that he was going to wave a magic wand and we were going to have 25 world-class players. It doesn't matter who comes into a national team you're still dependent on the players that have already been produced. What he's been implementing will take a little time and people will have to understand the field and the non-field side. He's giving the players and the team a field little things that will make a difference.

That's the tough thing. You can't make 40, 50 percent things. You're trying to improve five, three, two percent things that are the difference between a 1-0 loss to a 1-1 draw or maybe to a 1-0 win. Those are the kind of little fractions. But at the same time you still need the players to perform and do their job.

Jurgen has admitted himself there are things he's had to learn about CONCACAF compared to some of the scenarios that he's been in before.

Overall the national team is in a pretty healthy spot right now. Granted eleven wins in a row right now doesn't hurt.

FBM: You came back to Major League Soccer with the Seattle Sounders and their incredible atmosphere. Talk about what it was like to come to Seattle and be a part of that.

KK: For me it was the easiest transition possible. First of all I'm coming home after seventeen years. But also I was coming home to something that really, really mattered. It was on the radio shows it was on all the TVs. My wife and I were having a competition to see when we'd have a time when we'd go out to dinner and somebody wouldn't stop by the table and say something.

FBM: How long did that take?

KK: I think it's still running. Which… it's just cool. It shows you that things have really moved in a good direction. Coming from Europe and how the game's perceived there to come home and have complete anonymity would seem strange, but  there's a really good balance here.

It's unintrusive. It's how you'd hope pro sports should be. You have the Seahawks, the Mariners, and the Sounders are right there.

FBM: You're in the broadcast booth doing color commentary for the Sounders and also ESPN. Has that changed your perspective on the game at all?

KK: Not really. We'll see what happens four, five years down the road, but I still take it as a player. I still kind of approach it like being the captain of a team. Sometimes you have to be critical, but you try not to be over the top. I try not to “Well… when I played…”

I take it from the approach that I'm supposed to help you (the viewer) enjoy the game. You're not tuning in to listen to me. I'm supposed to help you enjoy the experience and not try and overbear on the experience. 

That's my approach and people have seemed to respond pretty well to it.

FBM: You're a whiskey guy. This is a beer and soccer website, but I'll allow it. What are your top three whiskies?

KK: My top three. Lagavulin is my number one whiskey. I'm more of a single malt guy then a blended. Then I'll go to Talisker. Then when I want to go to blend I'll go with Johnny Walker Blue Label.

But then I have a bottle in my house of 18-year-old Macallan that was distilled in 1969; the year that I was born, that I haven't opened yet. I'm still waiting for the right moment 

FBM: Is it when the U.S. men's national team wins the World Cup next year?

KK: (Laughs) That could possible be…. we're waiting to see what that moment will be.

The other hard part is I also want to open it up when I have people around that are truly scotch people that will appreciate what's going on there and not try and mix it with Coke. 

FBM: Well then don't invite me over. I've got a lot of learning to do on the whiskey side of things.

Kasey Keller thanks for your time.

KK: Thank you.

Keller and Alexi Lalas in the ESPN booth during the 2012 MLS Cup.

Tags: Six-Pack Interview Series, USMNT

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