In the 79th minute of Seattle Sounders’ play-off match against Real Salt Lake on Tuesday night, Kasey Keller pulled off a fabulous one-on-one save from Fabian Espindola to keep his Seattle side in the game, if only for a little longer.
It would prove to be the last meaningful stop of his career as the Sounders bowed out 3-2 on aggregate, pulling down the curtain on the career of the 41-year-old goalkeeper.
His career has been one of glory, consistency and determination for the veteran who bows out with many still of the opinion that he can still do a job as a number one keeper in spite of his age.
Indeed while post-season glory has not been forthcoming, his final season at the top ends with his club lifting the US Open Cup for the third time, once for each of his three seasons in the Pacific Northwest.
When Keller began his professional career with English club Milwall in 1992, the concept of a soccer player having gone through the further education system – commonplace on the other side of the Atlantic – was still largely alien to UK audiences.
Here was a 22-year-old, coming into the game with zero club experience aside from a handful of games with a previous incarnation of the Portland Timbers while playing college soccer at the city’s university, yet he had travelled to the 1990 World Cup with a United States squad containing the likes of future MLS stars Tony Meola, Tab Ramos and Eric Wynalda.
In many ways he had a lot to prove to a set of fans known to rarely hold back with their opinions, but Keller was unfazed and quickly endeared himself to the Lions faithful, even winning the club’s Player of the Year award at the end of his first full season.
A United States international with more than a century of caps for his country, Keller will always hold a place in the hearts of English supporters for his spells with Millwall, Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham, time and time again surprising onlookers with a tenacity which saw him elevated above more established names into a starting berth.
This was particularly true in north London, where Tottenham fans had almost got used to the idea of him playing second fiddle to Scotland international Neil Sullivan (himself still going strong now at the age of 41), only for Keller to earn his place between the sticks with his commanding presence and the level of agility and athleticism which few initially associated with someone as measured and methodical as the Olympia native.
However, perhaps his proudest moment in England came in 1997 when he was part of a Leicester side which defied the odds to lift the League Cup following an extra-time win over Middlesbrough in the final, having beaten Manchester United along the way.
When Keller’s European adventure ended in 2008 that was supposed to be that, but his return to his home state of Washington showed that he had plenty more to offer.
He was one of the marquee signings along with Freddie Ljungberg when Sigi Schmid’s Sounders became the 15th team in Major League Soccer, and unlike similarly high-profile names such as Blaise Nkufo he has demonstrated both his popularity and staying power during his time at the club.
Keller’s experience has been invaluable in guiding a team comprising inexperienced upstarts and committed if limited journeymen to three successive cup victories and three successive play-off campaigns.
And as recently as last month he produced a remarkable quadruple-save against San Jose which had pundits once again convinced that he should postpone the decision to hang up his gloves.
For all the contribution of the club’s forward play, Keller and his well-marshalled back line have helped the club grind out the clean sheets (30 of them in three regular-season campaigns) and narrow victories just as crucial in terms of advancing to post-season.
Indeed it is fitting that Keller’s last game also marked the Sounders’ first ever win at this stage of the competition, with only a three-goal reverse in Utah preventing Schmid’s side from progressing.
Even in retirement, Kasey Keller has opened a new chapter in Seattle Sounders history.