Just being there is not enough, says Keller
Life is good for Kasey Keller. At 36, the Borussia Monchengladbach and United States goalkeeper is playing as well as ever as he prepares for his fourth FIFA World Cup this summer.
Here Keller voted the United States Soccer Federation's Player of the Year for a record third time in December - reflects on the progress the US have made since his first finals in 1990 and looks ahead to the tournament in Germany, the country he currently calls home.
Go to the USA team page
FIFAworldcup.com: You were part of the USA squad in 1990. How have expectations changed since then?
Kasey Keller: We've been very fortunate that the level of the game back home has improved dramatically over the last 15-20 years. It went from a point where qualifying for '90 was a big deal to where qualifying is a foregone conclusion and just being in the World Cup is not good enough any more. Now we're expected to get out of the first round and to see how far we can go.
How do you view your chances in Germany?
We have an extremely difficult group when you look at how European teams have traditionally done in Europe. In Korea and Japan it was something new for everyone, and it gave a more level playing field. Being down with two of the European teams in our group, it's tough and I think most people would be looking at the Czech Republic and Italy to get through. And let's say we finished second in the group, in all likelihood we would face Brazil in the second round so it is not going to get any easier. But we do feel confident that we can play against European teams and compete with them.
What have been the main factors behind the USA's progress over the years?
There are several factors. One is breaking through to the finals after so many years in 1990 and then being able to improve by hosting the Cup in '94. We got out of the first round there by having a big win against a very strong Colombia team and that kept the momentum going and then we introduced the MLS which gave players an opportunity which in the past they didn't have - previously if they didn't get to Europe, their careers were over. The profile of US players has risen and there are more opportunities to play in Europe now and with MLS ten years old, our squad is much deeper than it's ever been. Now when we have injuries our level is not going to drop.
You were voted the US national team's best player in 2005. Do you feel you are playing better than ever?
I feel I am maybe playing more consistently. Over time I've gained so much experience and this is a factor as so much of goalkeeping is decision-making. Five hundred games later as a goalkeeper, you don't make as many wrong decisions as you did ten years earlier.
How has moving to Germany helped your career?
It has helped maintain my levels of motivation. If I was still in England I might be thinking, 'I'm going back to Highbury, I've already played here ten times'. I've played Bayern away at the old Olympic Stadium and this year at the new one. I've played at Dortmund in front of 80,000 people, at Schalke's indoor arena in front of 65,000. You're thinking, 'This is fresh, this is not something I have done before'.
You are not the only American goalkeeper in Europe, with Brad Friedel, Tim Howard and Marcus Hahnemann also playing here. How do you explain your success?
Growing up as an American you play so many sports where you deal with your hands so when you make the switch from an American sport to soccer, it's a lot easier to be a goalkeeper. That's changing now but I definitely developed good handling as a kid and becoming a goalkeeper was a natural thing.
It has worked out for some American players over here but not for Landon Donovan at Bayer Leverkusen. Why is that?
I think it didn't work out because of the timing of when he came over. For all the success I had, I could not imagine coming over at 17. The American way of life is totally different at 17 to the European way of life. If he'd come over at 21 he might have had a bit more success. He's got the talent to do well here, but at the moment he's found a very good career at home.
Freddy Adu made his debut for the US in January. Could we see him in Germany this summer?
I've gotten a few reports and the kid's not ready yet. This would never happen in Europe - look at Theo Walcott, he goes to Arsenal and no one says he's the next Pele. They just say he's a young talent and Arsenal will try to make him a star. I just don't want to see this kid implode. There is one thing he should be doing right now and that is trying to play as well as he can for DC United. His representatives have to decide at some point whether he wants to make a few commercials or make a career. He has to dominate MLS before he does anything else. Let's get a reality break here - play well for your club rather than talking about whether you're joining some big European team.
USA are playing Germany in Dortmund next week. How do you view the mood surrounding Jurgen Klinsmann's side?
There is definitely a little bit of angst and the way they lost to Italy (a 4-1 defeat in Florence) has added that bit more pressure. Obviously there's so much history in German football and the last time they hosted the World Cup they won it, so there is that pressure and they want to succeed. We'll be expecting a very focused German team for the match against us. There'll be a huge backlash.
What kind of tournament are you expecting this summer?
I've played in England and Spain and the atmosphere at games and the training and playing facilities here are as good as, or better than, any place I've ever been. On that side, the finals are going to be great. Another thing is Germany borders so many countries that are in the World Cup, so there will be so much support. It will definitely give it a greater buzz than there has been at some other World Cups. We are playing Italy in Kaiserslautern and there are 52,000 Americans in the Kaiserslautern area.
The last two FIFA World Cups were not so happy for you you lost all your matches in 1998 and then didn't get off the bench in 2002.
We had an extremely unhappy experience as a team in '98. We were basically like Portugal last time - we just imploded and had so many problems. As for the personal experience in 2002, it was difficult but that happens. I'd lost my place in the team and going into the tournament, the coach (Bruce Arena) said Brad (Friedel) would probably play against Portugal and me in the next game and then we'd see from there. Against the odds we beat Portugal and the manager did not want to change a winning team.
After that disappointment, do you have any personal goals for this FIFA World Cup?
My personal target is just to play as well as I can and hopefully with me playing well the team can pick up enough points and be as successful as possible. If we get our asses kicked, we get our asses kicked. However, if you make a save at the right time and someone else puts the ball in the net at the other end, you never know.