Friday, June 21, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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World Cup

Keller sits and steams

The Olympian

These aren't easy times for Kasey Keller.

Although Keller has started in twice as many games as any other U.S. soccer player playing in Europe, he has yet to play in this year's World Cup. Instead, Keller, whose career began in Lacey and included standout seasons at North Thurston High School, has been a stand-and-watch backup goalie to Brad Friedel.

U.S. Coach Bruce Arena has used 19 of the 22 healthy players on the team. It's not likely Keller will play in today's quarterfinal match (4 a.m. PDT) against Germany in Ulsan, South Korea.

"It's obviously been frustrating," Keller said in a telephone interview. "The frustrating part is I've been a player all along in my career, and to get to this point and not play is a little more difficult to swallow."

Going into the World Cup, Arena told Keller that he was on equal ground with Friedel and they would both play. Keller had been the No. 1 keeper during the qualifying rounds.

"I don't know, but I've had the feeling, basically since last summer," Keller said, "that there was, like I said it's a feeling, I don't know if it's true or not, that they were looking for some reason not to play me."

Arena got that reason a week before the 32-team World Cup began in South Korea when Keller bruised his elbow at practice. Keller missed a practice game against Costa Rica. He said he was ready to play in the World Cup opener against Portugal, but Friedel got the start.

World Cup broadcast schedule

Brazil vs. England
11:25 p.m., ESPN

U.S. vs. Germany
4 a.m., ESPN
(Tape delay: Sat., 10:30 a.m., Ch. 4)
Korea Republic vs. Spain
11:25 p.m., ESPN2
(Tape delay: Sat., 6:30 p.m., ESPN2)

Turkey vs. Senegal
4:25 a.m., ESPN

Game 1: June 25, 4:30 a.m., ESPN2
Game 2: June 26, 4:30 a.m., ESPN2

"If they were looking to play me, the injury won't have been an issue," Keller said. "I was fit in the first game."

As the U.S. advanced, Keller's chances of playing decreased because coaches usually do not make changes when their team is winning. Despite not playing, Keller said he will continue to practice hard, waiting for a chance.

Keller, 32, has established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in England. He has played at a higher level and had more success than Friedel.

"The coach basically agreed with that statement," Keller said about the comparison of careers. "The problem then becomes you start thinking of all these conspiracy theories."

In the last year, Keller has been replaced in the starting lineup by Friedel so Friedel could maintain his work permit to play in Europe. Friedel had been a backup goalie in England and Turkey before earning a starting job for the Blackburn Rovers of the Premier League.

"I've been told four or five times I wasn't going to play because of that," Keller said. "So it makes competition difficult. There's always politics in pro sports."

Keller's father, Bernie, is upset by Arena's decision not to play his son, saying that he hasn't been treated fairly.

"This is the biggest event in the world," Bernie Keller said. "This is what a soccer player dreams of. In Europe, everyone is wondering why Kasey isn't playing. I don't know how Kasey puts up with it. I don't think I could."

Keller, in his 12th year with the national team, is uncertain about his future with the team.

"If my country asked me to play, it would be hard to turn that down," Keller said. "But I don't know what I'd do. It depends on my role. It's tough to make decisions in the position I'm in right now."

Keller's motto has always been to let his talent speak for itself.

"I shouldn't need a PR company to do it," Keller said. "If that's what it takes to play in the next World Cup, I won't be playing."

While Keller is unhappy about his lack of playing time, he's pleased by the U.S. success and feels that will help the growth of soccer in this country.

"That's the side of it that you're striving for," Keller said. "On the personal side, it's frustrating for me. But the side of it that you're happy for is that it helps the sport continue to build."


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