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Keller settles in as US Goalkeeper

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  • Keller settles in as US Goalkeeper

    That's Kasey Keller in my avatar

    During his career in Europe, U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller has lived in big cities and out in the country, and the move to a new country also brought about a new living experience: In a castle.

    "It's a small castle, like a mini-resort," Keller says of his abode in the western part of Germany, between Dusseldorf and Moenchengladbach. "It has a steam room, a Jacuzzi. Not a bad deal." (Related item: Glimpsing at Keller's career)

    Keller's wife, Kristin, found the thousand-year-old castle, which is normally rented out for short-term stays and special events. A bit of lobbying was all it took to move in the Kellers and their twin children, Cameron and Chloe, who celebrated their eighth birthdays last Friday just before Dad left to join his U.S. teammates for a crucial CONCACAF World Cup qualifier vs. Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN Classic; Telemundo).

    A win by either country clinches a berth in the 2006 World Cup.

    "They just think it's normal," Keller says of a career that has taken him to several locales in England as well as Spain and Germany and almost Turkey. "When they go back somewhere and tell people they were born in London and then moved to Madrid and then we moved back to London and then we moved to Germany and lived in a castle for a while, it'll be interesting when they look back on it. That's when it will really sink in."

    During the past few months, what has sunk in is the fact that Keller, who for more than a decade dueled with Brad Friedel for the starting U.S. goalkeeper's job, is No. 1. He has made stellar saves throughout qualifying and has a 417-minute shutout streak over four games.

    Although Keller has been a member of the U.S. team since 1990 and has played 87 times for the national team, not until Friedel retired from the team last winter did coach Bruce Arena publicly declare that at last the U.S. team had an undisputed No. 1 goalkeeper. A win Saturday would give Keller, who is No. 1 in almost every statistical category for goalkeepers - from shutouts to World Cup games and qualifiers played - his 50th with the U.S. team.

    Stuck on the bench

    If the 2006 World Cup is anything like the 2002 version, the Americans will need superb goalkeeping. Somewhat lost during the giddy march to the quarterfinals, in which the USA lost a tight 1-0 decision to eventual runner-up Germany, was the seven goals conceded in five matches.

    Friedel saved two penalty kicks - only the second time that feat had been accomplished in the tournament's history - and rescued his teammates on a few other occasions with superb stops.

    Friedel and Keller had played in the qualifying leading up to the 2002 tournament, but after Friedel and Co. upset Portugal 3-2 in their World Cup opener, Arena had little choice but to stay with a winning formula. Friedel played every minute. Keller never got off the bench.

    He pondered retiring from the team, which Friedel had done in 2001 only to change his mind after a meeting with Arena. Keller decided to stick it out and emerged as the obvious No. 1 when Friedel left, this time for good, last winter.

    "There are some things between Bruce and I that will stay between Bruce and I and the way things transpired during the 2002 World Cup," Keller says. "I needed to have a clear-the-air conversation with Bruce if I was ever going to come in again. I had that before the (2003) Gold Cup.

    "I wanted to at least go out feeling good about my time with the national team. Bruce and I cleared the air and I came in, and I've not given up the position since. I'm proud of that."

    Keller has played the majority of the matches since the 2002 World Cup, including the 2003 and 2005 CONCACAF Gold Cup tournaments as well as 13 of the 14 qualifiers for the 2006 competition. His only World Cup appearances were a pair of matches in the 1998 World Cup while an imploding U.S. team lost all three of its games.

    Says Arena, "We talked. He decided to come back, and I'm glad that he did. He's still a top-class goalkeeper. No question."

    Who's No. 2?

    Friedel's retirement eliminated the who's No. 1 controversy but exacerbated another worry: Who's No. 2? Right now, nobody knows.

    The point is moot with a starter who, fit or not, will be 36 at the World Cup, and with referees empowered to eject keepers for fouls that deprive opponents of clear-cut goal-scoring chances.

    Former MetroStar Tim Howard started his English career brilliantly after signing with Manchester United in the spring of 2003, but in the past year he's seen mostly bench time, and his U.S. performances haven't been convincing. Marcus Hahnemann, who plays in England for Reading in the division just below the Premier League, played only his fifth national team game during the Gold Cup.

    Joe Cannon (Colorado), Kevin Hartman (Los Angeles), Matt Reis (New England) and Jonny Walker (Columbus) head a group of capable Major League Soccer goalies with little or no national-team experience.

    When questioned about Keller's status this month before the USA posted another qualifying win by beating Trinidad and Tobago 1-0, Arena said, "He'd have to fall out of a window" to lose the starting job.

    For an American who has bounced between several English cities and Madrid and nearly signed with a club in Istanbul, any dose of security is welcome, although he admits it has been a great ride.

    Says Keller: "At this stage of my career, to have a whole new array of experiences, to play in new stadiums and new teams to play against, is just one more thing in the résumé."

    Kasey Keller's club career in brief

    After four seasons at the University of Portland, Keller left school and trained for five months without a contract before earning his first start for Millwall in the English First Division in May 1992.

    •1992-1996: 176 league games for Millwall. Sold to Leicester City for 900,000 pounds (worth $1.5 million at the time).

    •1996-1999: 99 league games for Leicester City in English Premier League. Wins 1998 League Cup. Leaves on a free transfer.

    •1999-2001: 51 league games for Rayo Vallecano in Spanish La Liga. Leaves on a free transfer.

    •2001-2005: 89 league games for Tottenham and Southampton (on loan) in English Premier League. Leaves for a nominal fee.

    •2005: 17 games in second half of the 2004-05 German Bundesliga season for Borussia Moenchengladbach, which avoids relegation.

    •Current: Starter for Moenchengladbach.