Photo by Michael Pimental/ISIphotos.com
By JOSE M. ROMERO
Back in June, on the eve of the World Cup, there were questions being raised about whether Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller had much more left in the tank at age 40. The Sounders floundered to 15 points and were coming off a 3-2 home loss to lowly D.C. United.
Keller had a bad game that day. He was responsible for one, if not two of DCU's goals, and after the match, he pledged to work extremely hard to get better.
As if a U.S. soccer legend had to apologize for letting his team down, after all the times he'd saved the Sounders and his national team. That's Keller though. Mr. Accountability.
And Mr. Pledge Keeper. Keller has picked up his game, so have the Sounders, and after this past Saturday's 1-0 win at Chicago, Seattle is in position for its second playoff berth in two seasons of existence. Only one of the Sounders' four remaining MLS opponents is in mentionable postseason contention, Kansas City.
Veteran Blaise N'kufo sent in a goal, a shot deflected off of Fire defender C.J. Brown, in the 88th minute that won the game and three points for the Sounders. The move N'Kufo put on Brown was just a crafty shot fake, taking Brown off his feet and off-balance, then N'Kufo hit the ball hard enough for a re-direct that eluded the goalkeeper.
One veteran with a rope-a-dope move on another.
"Basically got lucky on the deflection, but I've scored many goals like that in my career," N'kufo said.
The Swiss international with a ton of big-game experience has helped shoulder the scoring responsibility that seemed to be almost entirely in the hands of young Fredy Montero.
Keller shined in goal. When the Sounders' defenders hesitated expecting an offsides whistle in the third minute, Keller stoned the Fire's Marco Pappa with a kick-save. Keller stopped another Pappa blast in extra time of the first half from short distance.
Those were the two biggest of a five-save night for Keller.
"I think it was a day where everyone did their job and I was called upon to make a few saves, and I was able to make them," Keller said after the game. "It was nice."
During their run of seven wins, one loss and three draws in the past 11 MLS matches, the Sounders have had contributions from other vets. The quartet of James Riley, Patrick Ianni, Jeff Parke and Leo Gonzalez leads a back line that has three straight shutouts and allowed only six goals in those 11 matches.