Sunday marked the tenth anniversary of the US’ lone victory over Brazil. The match in Los Angeles was sparsely attended with under 13,000 at the Coliseum. Unlike the next several US-Brazil games on American soil (2001 in LA, 2003 in Miami, and 2007 in Chicago, the later two games I attended) the number of American fans pulling for Brazil in the crowd was minimal and the US performance reflected a desire to win a Continental Championship- the Gold Cup. Nonetheless, Brazil was a superior side much of the match. The young Ronaldinho who had figured inthe previous two Gold Cup matches in Miami strangely didn’t make the trip to L.A. (I’ve never figured out why) That left Romario and Edmundo as the key Brazilians to dispose of. Ronaldo did not come to the Tournament.
This game will forever be remembered for Preki’s 65th minute goal off his left foot (incidentally about 10 minutes after I called it a night and headed to bed, leaving my VCR running) but the real hero of the night was Kasey Keller. Keller’s performance was perhaps the best in the history of US Soccer, making 13 saves, some of them simply defying logic and gravity! Romario, one of the great footballers of our time turned to Keller after a save in the 48th minute and shook his hand. After the match Romario said, “It was an honor to be on the field with him.” A few years ago I caught up with Romario after a Miami FC match, while he was playing here. Romario didn’t know a great deal of English, but I did gather from his broken words that he still considers Keller’s performance one of the best he has ever seen in football.
Kasey Keller has often times been a contradiction. A savvy veteran goalkeeper who makes amateur mistakes. A team leader who sulked when he was bumped in favor of his longtime rival Brad Friedel prior to the 2002 World Cup. A keeper whose US career is marred by his lack of big victories in major competitions. (the three biggest US wins in FIFA competitions with Keller on the squad were all started by Friedel- the 1999 Confederations Cup win over Germany, the 2002 World Cup win over Portugal and the 2002 World Cup win over Mexico- in the case of the Germany game it is particularly unfortunate because Keller was the clear #1 at that time and Friedel just happened to start that game because Keller was banged up in the previous match against Brazil) and whose desire and willingness to play for his country at all costs (unlike Friedel) has often times rendered him a journeyman club keeper in the European game.
Kasey Keller should always be remembered for this one game above all. On that special night in Los Angeles, he wasn’t just the best keeper in the world: he was the best footballer on the planet.
The US Lineup vs Brazil: Gold Cup 1998
———————-Wynalda (Preki)——————–Wegerle (McBride)——————-
The US would go on to lose the final to Mexico 1-0, the last meaningful El Tri victory on US soil. Luis Hernandez’s 38th minute goal against the run of play would be blamed by some on Keller. But it was Keller who brought the US to the final in the first place, where unlike 1996 and 2003 Brazil’s watered down Gold Cup squad didn’t eliminate us from OUR continental championship.