Arriving jetlagged and greeted by some unlikely L.A. rainfall, Kasey Keller was actually very much in favor of postponing what would become the signature performance of his storied life between the sticks. As it turned out, he would have to keep his date with destiny.
On the morning of Feb. 10, 1998, came the all-clear call; the United States would indeed face Brazil in a Gold Cup semifinal that evening in the Coliseum, what some would later term the Miracle on Grass.
This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of that occasion, when everything aligned to create some magic that has yet to be replicated. Coincidentally, the two of the principals in pulling off that caper–Keller and Preki–have been reunited in the Puget Sound soccer community.
“I remember laughing to myself later, after the game,” recalls Keller, “that this could quite possibly be the game of my career, and I hadn’t wanted it to go forward. I wanted it delayed.”
Keller, then just 27 and the first-choice keeper for Leicester City, has flown all night after posting back-to-back Premiership shutouts of Man United and Leeds. It was a compromise between U.S. Soccer and Martin O’Neill, the Leicester manager; Keller would miss the two group games but arrive in time for the knockout round, the day before as it turned out.
Jill Ellis was the featured speaker at theWashington Youth Soccer’s 50th Anniversary Gala. Although born in England she came to America during her formative years, when the first youth soccer boom was well underway. At that time, the U.S. Women’s National Team was in its infancy. Fortunately, one of the team’s early stars was in her midst and guided her development.
Who are the early women’s players you wanted to emulate?
Media wasn’t huge back then, so initially it was people within my inner circle. I had only played with boys in England. Here, my teammates–Megan McCarthy who was with the national team, and Julie Cunningham–were players I had tremendous respect for. You didn’t see (the top players) enough to try to emulate, but you held them in high esteem. There was real quality to see. In northern Virginia, Marcia McDermott was an exceptional player and very skillful. The player who was most influential as far as me wanting to get better was April Heinrichs. She was our assistant coach at William & Mary. April came in and was this uber-competitive person, and I loved it. Here was a woman where competition just seethed out of her. It was tremendous. She had great feet and quickness. I remember working on my footwork with her in training. I didn’t see her play for the national team; you didn’t have that kind of access. But in terms of players I respected and admired, April is at the top.
U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis will deliver the keynote speech at the Washington Youth Soccer 50th Anniversary Gala. You may not know much about Ellis, but she has learned a lot about soccer in this state, beginning back in 1984. Her club, Virginia’s Braddock Road Blue Bells, met Washington’s Union Bay Flyers, starring Michelle Akers, in the U19 national championship game.
What do you remember about that particular game?
It was during my senior year in high school, and that ‘s when I saw Michelle for the first time. They announced the lineups and they said she was a McDonalds All-American, and I thought that was impressive. We happened to win that day, and it was quite a feather because in college William & Mary (Ellis’s school) played (Akers’s Central Florida) quite frequently and we got our tails kicked.
If we asked one of your college teammates, what would be their scout on Jill Ellis the player?
Gosh, I think my college teammates would say I was competitive, pretty technical, and I actually could get a head of steam up so I was pretty quick; I played up front. I loved to compete. I was pretty shy off the field and especially my freshman year I didn’t’ speak whole lot. They would probably say I was good teammate and had their backs.
What if we asked one of one of the first players you coached, how would they describe you?
In the early years they would have described me as demanding but caring, competitive, a stickler for details and a disciplinarian. Ultimately they knew I cared about them as people first. It was about soccer but they certainly knew that I expected highly of them off the field as well. I respected them as people, not just athletes.
You’ve lived in several areas around the country, and have come to Seattle and the state many times as coach for UCLA, and the national team. What’s the vibe around the game that you sense here, and how does it compare to other places?
I love the state of Washington and I have spent quite a bit of time in Seattle. Obviously when you watch games on television you see that the people love their sports and they’re so passionate about their teams. I’ve known (UW coach) Lesle Gallimore for years and she’s a big Mariners fan. It’s kind of cool because it’s a state that loves its sports. For soccer, you see that vibe and energy from the Sounders crowds. It’s crazy to see that fan base. When you grow up in England and settle on the (U.S.) East Coast at first you don’t realize there’s this whole other side to this country. Once I was in California and on the West Coast I had a greater appreciation for just how impactful Washington, the state, has been in our soccer development and growth in the game.
Washington is obviously proud of its soccer community. What or whom comes to mind when you think of soccer in this state?
The players coming out of here are coming from a highly developed soccer state. They certainly have a pretty good acumen for the game; they’ve been exposed to good coaching at the youth levels. There’s a high degree of technical proficiency. It’s such a great place to live, and people want to live there and there’s a commitment to developing. A lot of people I’ve known in the game are from Washington. Sandy Hunt was a pioneer. Bobby Howe took me through my A license. I’ve been exposed to a lot of people coming out of this state. It’s a hotbed, it’s one of the most developed areas. California and Washington are the top developers on the West Coast and have been highly competitive since I was playing up to now. It’s a state that ‘s proven its development works.
What are some of the subjects you hope to touch upon when you come to town Friday night?
It certainly paying a tribute to the 50 years, there’s tribute section woven into it. Although it’s honoring 50 years it’s also very much about looking forward to the next steps and what will keep us at the forefront. If we’re going to get better it involves a plan, it involves a struggle, it involves hard work and it involves collaboration. It’s an opportunity to stand in front of people who can influence our youth. While I want to honor their accomplishments to date, I also want to partner with them in terms of how to continue to grow this game and develop players that can one day play for our national team.
For those who have grown to appreciate the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup for its history, gritty displays and penchant for upsets, the Washington chapter can deliver on all those counts and more.
When Sounders FC pulls into the StubHub Center’s track venue for the quarterfinal date with the Galaxy, it will almost be like old, old times. Like when a Seattle side first ventured into southern California for a quarterfinal that, incidentally, was 50 years ago. Spoiler alert: Seattle did OK. That day, anyway. But more on that later.
It’s probably a good thing that induction into the National Soccer Hall of Fame is a byproduct of job well done rather than an objective from the outset. Otherwise, seeing what must be undertaken over years and years would seem overwhelming. Why, it would be enough for a coach to consider accounting.
In assessing the careers of Kasey Keller and Sigi Schmid it seems they should’ve locked-up an invitation to the Hall long ago. They appear to have what it takes in spades.
For Keller, he was tracking toward this day for more than 20 years,
beginning in 1989 when he shined at that U20 World Cup. By 2005 he’d been U.S. player of the year three times, made three World Cup rosters, broken new ground for Americans in Europe and blanked Brazil in a performance for the ages. Yet he kept on going for another six seasons, in the end coming home to remind those in MLS what we’d been missing all those years. Continue reading Soccer Hall Beckons (And There’s room For More)→
So what’s U.S. Soccer got to do to get Joe Fan interested in the Open Cup?
That remains the question as the tournament begins its second hundred years tonight with the Philadelphia-Seattle final at PPL Park. It seems that despite significant changes in the format this historic knockout competition is plagued by apathy and a general lack of appreciation, awareness and, consequently, attendance.
It seems that if the Lamar Hunt Open Cup is to survive the next century, it must aspire to do more than just slog along. There must be an intentional effort to reinvigorate this event. Failing that, it will remain just a niche attraction, valued by pockets here and there who respect it for either history’s sake or the least path of resistance to a CCL berth.
As it is, only about 60,000 folks are interested in tonight’s outcome. Thirty-five thousand of them live in the Puget Sound region. Another 15,000 will venture to Chester. Judging from the obscure broadcast provider, GolTV, the rest are scattered about in soccer pubs around the country, or wherever else that elusive signal rebounds to earth.