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Keller is still kicking around

Goalkeeper, 37, who has 100 games with national team, leads U.S. defense at Copa America.

June 28, 2007|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

As he has been for 100 games over the last 17 years, goalkeeper Kasey Keller again will be the last line of defense for the United States national soccer team today when it opens Copa America play against tournament favorite Argentina in Maracaibo, Venezuela.

If anyone can thwart Lionel Messi, Hernan Crespo, Juan Sebastian Veron, Carlos Tevez and the rest of the high-octane Argentine attack, it's Keller.

Fifty-three victories, 47 shutouts and a 0.77 goals-against average in those 100 games attest to that.

"Goalkeeper has been our best position for probably the last 15 years in U.S. soccer," defender Carlos Bocanegra said after Keller had helped defeat Canada in last week's Gold Cup semifinals.

"To get 100 caps as a goalkeeper for the U.S. team, I think that's pretty special with the amount of talented goalies we've had."

It comes as something of a surprise, therefore, that Keller, 37, a veteran of four World Cup tournaments, is without a club team.

After a pro career that has seen him carve out an enviable reputation while playing in England, Spain and Germany, Keller is, essentially, unemployed.

"I got an offer to play in Iran the other day," he said. "I thought that was a little interesting.

"I keep getting kind of funny e-mails and funny offers. I'm just waiting for that one that says, 'Yes. Cool. Let's do that.' I'm not in any hurry just to jump on something for the sake of jumping on it.

"I'd love to come back to America. I'd play in Mexico. I'd play in different places still in Europe or wherever. If it's right, it's right. It doesn't matter where if it's right. So far that hasn't materialized."

Being free of any other commitments, Keller was happy enough to head to Venezuela with the U.S. team. He was in the nets in the 1995 Copa America when the U.S. beat Argentina, 3-0, en route to the semifinals.

There is no guarantee that Keller will start today, but it is difficult to see Coach Bob Bradley opting for backup Brad Guzan against an Argentine lineup that is fearsome. That is no disrespect to third-year Chivas USA goalkeeper Guzan, but there is a difference between being thrown off the deep end and being thrown off a cliff.

One of Bradley's first moves after being hired as U.S. coach was to announce that Tim Howard would inherit the No. 1 jersey from Keller, but Bradley still has tremendous faith in the veteran keeper, whose first U.S. cap was earned in 1990.

At the 12-nation Copa America, the U.S. plays first-round games against Paraguay on Monday and Colombia on July 5. The U.S. has taken a young team with limited experience to the tournament, but Keller heads a list of four players with World Cup experience -- defender Jimmy Conrad, midfielder Ben Olsen and forward Eddie Johnson.

"I'm not under any delusions about my age or anything like that," Keller said. "I know I can still perform at the highest level."

After Copa America, Keller will resume his search for a new club.

"It has to be financially worthwhile," he said. "It has to be a place where I can get a good school for my kids and a nice city to live in. I've been very fortunate throughout my career that I've played in pretty cool cities."

Major League Soccer, apparently, is not in the running. Asked if he would consider a move to MLS to be a step down, Keller was quick to reply. "Of course," he said.

"I remember somebody talking to Michael Schumacher about racing in America. He said, 'Why? No disrespect, but you think NASCAR is Formula One? It's not. You can't compare it.'

"It's absolutely no disrespect to MLS. It's a league that has been around for 11 years. It's made great improvements over that time."

It is geography, not the quality of MLS play, that is affecting Keller's decision.

"There isn't a team in Seattle or Portland. If you want me to move someplace that is still a four-hour flight [from home], I might as well stay in Europe," he said.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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