The former Spurs, Seattle and USA goalkeeper on living in a castle, controversial MLS chants … and Drew Carey's sense of humour
Hello Kasey, what are you up to these days?
A lot of broadcasting. I do all the Seattle Sounders games, I do about 15 to 20 of the marquee ESPN games each year – World Cup qualifying, MLS All-Star, MLS Cup, Confederations Cup, Euros, stuff like that. Then I sneak into a bit of coaching every once in a while. I've worked with the Under-20 US national team, and I just got back from doing the goalkeeping coaching for Jürgen Klinsmann at the Gold Cup. So I'm wearing lots of different hats.
You did say towards the end of your playing career that you liked the sound of coaching …
Yeah, it's been fun. The broadcasting side's been great too, though. By the time I retired as a player I had spent 20 years being told every day "Be here at this time", "Now go there", "Now do that". I wanted to have a little bit more control of my schedule, and broadcasting has afforded me that. When we moved home [to Seattle, in 2009] my kids were about 12, and it was their fifth school in their fourth country. So doing this work allows them to finish up high school in one place and get into university. When you put your name in the hat for coaching you don't know where that's going to pull you. So it would be nice for them to finish school, then if that is a route that my wife and I decide to go for later in life we'll know we're not disrupting their lives as we have in the past.
You did get to play in some very different places in your career.
I was very fortunate to play for three London teams, then in Madrid, Düsseldorf. There were some fun experiences.
In Germany, you lived in a castle.
I did live in a castle. We still laugh about that. It was built by the Franks in 970 and it had a moat! It was fun as an American to get to do that.
Small Talk doesn't think you would have to be American to think that was fun.
Right, it would be a fun thing for anybody. But when you think that our country was truly formed – well, the earliest settlements were in the 1400s, and this thing was built 500 years before even that, it's cool history to be a part of.
Did you buy yourself a crown?
That would have been a little over the top, I think. But it was very funny. We had some good times, living in Germany, playing for such a big club as Borussia Moenchengladbach, during the World Cup in Germany.
Yes, yes, but the castle. Did it have a drawbridge?
No, there was just an arced bridge going over the moat.
What about a small posse of archers stationed atop the outermost wall?
There were actually cuts in one of the turrets, so you could have put some archers up there. The people who maintained the castle had turned them into glass, but you could have worked that out. You could've caused some havoc.
You're regretting not doing this now, aren't you?
I actually had a typing error a little while back. I was at my wife's aunt's ranch in South Dakota, pheasant hunting, and I tweeted something about that, but I missed an 'h', so the tweet said I was peasant hunting! There were some excellent comments I got back about my time in the castle, and how I must of course be used to peasant hunting.
Oh, so you're the guy who brought that craze over to America?
Yes. Yes, that is correct.
Which was your favourite out of England, Spain and Germany? Think carefully about this one.
You know, I've had such good times everywhere I've played – from Millwall being my first club and the new experiences I had there, to Leicester City, where people expected us to be relegated by Christmas but instead we finished in the top-half of the Premier League in all of my three seasons there, as well as getting to to two cup finals. Then I got to go to Spain and be the first American to play in La Liga. With Rayo Vallecano we got promoted and I believe after 16 games we were one point ahead of Barcelona in first place. The next year we lost in the quarterfinals of the Uefa Cup. Then it was Spurs, where I played every minute of every game, league and cup, for over a couple of years, then Gladbach before the World Cup, then Fulham and one of the greatest relegation escapes in Premier League history. And after all that I got to come home to Seattle to 40,000 fans a game in America. It's been a pretty cool ride!
Small Talk's first memory of you was in a League Cup game between Arsenal and Millwall where you happened to play very well indeed.
[Laughs] Yeah, then I think we lost on penalties in the replay. I saved the first one, then we missed three in a row. Then we beat Arsenal a couple of years later, at Highbury, in the League Cup, and Chelsea in the next round on another replay. Between the different cup runs I'd had at Millwall, and a few odd preseason games, I'd almost played everybody in the Premier League before I played in the Premier League. And then the Millwall fans would proceed to tear everything apart.
They never tried to tear you apart, did they?
No, I didn't have any individual run-ins – but there were plenty of things that I saw. I remember going to Leicester for the first time, and somebody asked me within the first couple of weeks whether I had ever been caught up in a pitch invasion. I was like, "Really?" We had three or four a season at Millwall, and I just thought that was normal until I got to different clubs and never had another one the rest of my career. But I seem to treat other people the way they treat me, and the Millwall fans treated me excellently. Do I understand the [hooligan] element that's there? Yes. Do I condone it? No, not at all. But the Millwall fans and the club were great to me, and I will always be appreciative of that.
There's been a big push in Major League Soccer in recent weeks to shut down the "You suck, asshole" chant. Doesn't that seem a little quaint after what you heard in South London?
Yeah. I mean, I can understand why they're trying to take things out like that, but I definitely had some friends and their children come watch me play throughout England, and they learned a new colourful language. But it's a question of what you're used to, and what the environment is. You wouldn't expect that sort of chant in an NBA game or a Major League Baseball game, so I can see what Major League Soccer is trying to do. Does it offend me? No. Does it offend some people with their kids? Probably.
You had just turned 22 when you went to Millwall – so you'd only been legally able to buy alcohol in the States for a year. Small Talk's betting that the drinking culture among English soccer players in the early 1990s might have come as another culture shock.
Yeah, that was interesting. But I was always a very confident kid – I wasn't going to get bullied into anything I didn't want to do. I'm not a big drinker, and I've never been a big drinker. But it was definitely entertaining at different times to watch some of my team-mates. What truly amazes me, to this day was the way these guys could drink and show up the next day at practice – with zero effect. I had one team-mate who told me that if he had a choice, he would never drink a liquid that wasn't alcohol.
Ha! Can you tell us who that was?
No! But it's amazing that that was the thought process. Other guys would say "I don't want to have a beer, unless I can have 20". That was the part that surprised me. Not just go to dinner and have a beer, or a glass of wine, which was normal for some of the foreign players on the team. For the British guys it really did seem to be: "I don't just want to drink, I want to get paralytic."
Well this has been a most diverting chat, Kasey, but Small Talk is being told it's time to wrap things up. Before we go, though, can you tell us a joke?
I can, but I don't think you could print it. It was told to me by Drew Carey.
Ah go on, tell us anyway.
[Kasey proceeds to regale Small Talk with a tale of divorcées, bestiality and faeces. Small Talk reluctantly agrees that this might not be family-friendly material.]
That Drew Carey is a terrible, terrible man. Still, it's been a pleasure. Thanks for your time.
No problem. See you later.
Kasey Keller is the Castrol GTX High Mileage brand ambassador