TUKWILA, Wash. -- Reclining comfortably in a leather office chair, Kasey Keller offers a two-part reflection on his celebrated career.
"On one side, I've loved every minute of it," says the 41-year-old, with a contented smile.
And on the other side?
"I feel a little disappointed I never got a chance to play for a team that was going to challenge for a championship," the Olympia, Wash.-born goalkeeper explains. "I wish I could have. I was close several times."
Looking back, those frustrations are mainly exceptions for the well-traveled Sounders FC captain. For 19 years, he has lived the sport he loves across the globe: from winning trophies in England, to living in castles in Germany, to breaking new ground in Spain.
Proudly representing U.S. soccer around the world, and ultimately playing in his home state, Keller will retire after the 2011 Major League Soccer season, ending one of the most storied and accomplished soccer careers this country has seen.
"You can't talk about the great American players without mentioning Kasey Keller," says Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid.
"I would say Keller is part of a very select group of Americans of his generation," says Grant Wahl, a Sports Illustrated senior writer, who ranks the goalkeeper in his top five players in U.S. history.
"He's a pioneer for American soccer," says Chris Henderson, a former teammate of Keller's on the U.S. national team and current technical director in Seattle.
"He's been one of the leaders for the sport in our country," says MLS commissioner Don Garber, calling Keller an ambassador of the league. "Him returning home to Seattle helped launch that club in a very credible way."
But such praise isn't meant to retire Keller before his 20th season is over. As the leader of a title-hungry Sounders FC club -- with expectations as high as the decibel levels at Qwest Field -- he's still got that elusive championship to win.
Keller likes to think it was self-confidence that propelled him to England out of college. To call it an ambitious route for a 22-year-old is an understatement. Especially for an American.
"It had to be borderline arrogance, or even full-fledged arrogance," Keller allows with a laugh.
No one had ever played in England on a U.S. passport. Other touted American players, what few there were, mostly benefitted from European lineage in getting a foot into the world's top leagues. Keller had no such advantage, having grown up on an egg farm outside Olympia.
But signing with London-based Millwall FC in 1992 after playing for the University of Portland was just the first of the barriers broken down by Keller. Next he moved up to Leicester City of the English Premier League. After a few years, he became the first American to play in Spain's top league, La Liga, with Rayo Vallecano. Later he established himself as a regular for Borussia Monchengladbach in the renowned German Bundesliga--a stretch during which he and his family lived in a 1,000-year old castle near Dusseldorf.
Each step of the way, Keller was judged by his nationality. But with each prejudice he faced and conquered, he made it easier for the next generation of Americans to play soccer in Europe.
"If I could've taken the same path that I took, but to start it five, six years ago, that'd be a fun road," says Keller. "It'd be a little easier, maybe, because somebody had done it before me. There would have been maybe a little less stereotypes to break down, but those are still there. American guys are still being overlooked."
Playing overseas also presented challenges back home. Despite Keller being one of the top Americans in the game, U.S. soccer fans often struggled to keep up with his exploits.
These days, with bundled TV packages and the Internet, soccer enthusiasts have no trouble following stars like Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard in the English Premier League. That wasn't the case for Keller.
"It's almost like if it doesn't take place on live television or have highlights, it's like it didn't happen to some folks," Wahl says. "But if he had done those things in today's environment, where we can see all this stuff, I think there would be more respect for what Keller has achieved."
Keller, who also played for Tottenham and Fulham of the EPL, was most visible to American fans through the U.S. national team. Three times he was named U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year, and he made World Cup squads in 1990, 1998, 2002 and 2006 -- twice as the starter. A rare aggravation came during the team's magical quarterfinal run in 2002, which he watched from the bench when coach Bruce Arena elected to go with rival goalkeeper Brad Friedel instead.
Other annoyances came via bureaucratic battles when club teams didn't want Keller to leave at midseason for national team games across the Atlantic.
Keller, who has long since considered himself retired internationally, save for an emergency, almost quit international soccer a couple times. But in the end, "I just enjoyed playing for my country," he says. "A lot."
Some say it's his hands. Others credit Keller's mental toughness.
The list of his best attributes grows with each person asked.
Technical ability. Meticulous training. Leadership. Distribution. Shot-stopping. Composure. Fitness level, even at 41 years old.
Keller's legacy, however, won't be measured in flashy saves or highlights, but in the day-to-day commitment to his craft. Discipline and dedicated work over the years not only prevented injuries, but fueled the fire as he blazed trails across Europe.
Sounders FC goalkeeper coach Tommy Dutra has yet to see Keller, his former training partner, go through the motions in practice or try to skate by on reputation.
"He trains harder than anyone else," Dutra says. "He brings it day in and day out. It means a lot to him."
Keller says the moment you don't care anymore is the moment you need to quit. Evidence it still matters to Keller can be heard every day at the team's training facility at the Starfire Sports Complex. Usually, the loudest--and occasionally profane--voice is Keller's. The team captain is quick to hold veterans and rookies similarly accountable, whether it's leading into a scrimmage or a playoff game.
"That's Kasey. He's a competitor," says backup goalkeeper Terry Boss. "That's what makes it fun, to come out and compete every day. He'll always be a competitor. Whatever it is, he'll always want to be the best, and I respect that."
And while Keller will offer advice to a young goalkeeper in one drill, he'll make sure to beat him in the next one.
"I think he takes pride in saying, 'Hey, I'm 41, this kid's 21, 22 years old, I'm going to work him into the ground,' " says Dutra.
The one thing Keller has never accomplished is scoring a goal. He came close once at Millwall, but when his punt bounced over the opposing goalkeeper toward the open goal, a teammate raced ahead and tapped the ball into the empty net.
Sounders FC officials have offered Keller the opportunity to take a penalty kick late in a game, presumably one that likely wouldn't affect the outcome. He's not interested.
"If I'm the one they need to score in that situation, we've got big problems," Keller jokes. "I know I'm a goalkeeper. That just comes with the position."
As comfortable as Keller is at organizing defenses and anticipating shots on goal, he's just as adept at talking and teaching the game. Demanding media duties, especially this preseason before his farewell tour, come as little bother to the player who is the face of Sounders FC.
"You have to take that as a responsibility as a player," he says, citing an obligation to promote the sport.
He takes it far beyond that.
Last year, despite not being a team representative to the players' union, Keller played a part in renegotiating a new collective-bargaining agreement that saved the 2010 season. But even an interaction on the smallest scale, like a high-five to a fan while leaving the field, can help a sport grow, perhaps by planting the seed of support in younger generations.
The game has provided so much to Keller. Now it's time to reciprocate.
"I needed to be somewhere to start to give back, to start to help evolve this game and get it to where we all feel that it can be and that it should be in the future," Keller said in a December news conference announcing his retirement.
Schmid says Keller has been an ideal role model for young players and has played "a very vital role" in the development of American soccer. Those are traits Keller hopes can continue after he stops playing.
The specific avenue for that future work, however, isn't determined yet.
It could be as a member of Sounders FC's technical staff. Maybe as a broadcaster. Or even a coach (he has a national "B" coaching license through U.S. Soccer). More than likely, it will be in his home state of Washington.
While still open to all employment opportunities, Keller says he wants to keep his family settled at home. His twin daughters, Chloe and Cameron, had to change schools with every career move.
Plus, he has already found something special with Sounders FC.
"I came home wanting to be a part of something," Keller says, "and I would have only done that with an organization I felt was truly doing things the right way. There's no question that Seattle is setting the standard. And I'd love to continue the push."
Keller's career stops: 1989 Portland Timbers
1992-1996 Millwall (England)
1996-1999 Leicester City (England)
1999-2001 Rayo Vallecano (Spain)
2001-2005 Tottenham (England)
2004 Southampton (England)
2005-2007 Borussia Mounchengladbach (Germany)
2007-2008 Fulham (England)
2009- Sounders FC
Kasey Keller file
Height: 6 feet 2
Weight: 190 pounds
Hometown: Olympia, Wash.
University of Portland
Family: Wife, Kristin. Children, Chloe and Cameron, 13-year-old twins.
Honors: Named to four World Cup squads, three-time U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year, two-time MLS all-star.