Goalkeeper Kasey Keller making MLS All-Star debut

Goalkeeper Kasey Keller making MLS All-Star debut

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SANDY, Utah (AP) -- Nearing the end of one of the most successful soccer careers an American has had, Kasey Keller is a rookie again.

The 39-year-old goalkeeper is making his All-Star debut Wednesday night when a Major League Soccer squad hosts Everton, a club Keller knows well from his years playing in England's Premier League.

"This is new to me, as well. This is my first All-Star game so I don't really quite know how it all works out," Keller said.

Not much else is new for Keller at this stage in his career. The longtime starter in goal for the U.S. national team has had tours with clubs in the top European leagues -- including the Premier League, Spain's La Liga and the Bundesliga of Germany -- before joining MLS this season with the Seattle Sounders.

Keller has six shutouts for the expansion Sounders and was among the first 11 players voted to the MLS team, 5-0 against international opponents under the unusual All-Star format. The league scrapped its East vs. West game and started inviting pro teams from other countries.

Everton, runner-up in England's FA Cup, is winding up a North American tour as it prepares for the season opener Aug. 15 at home against Arsenal.

While the Toffees have history that dates to 1878, the MLS has been around for only 13 years and is still trying to build a reputation.

"It's an important game for them. They're in the preseason and want to have a competitive game," Keller said of Everton. "There's a little bit of a pride factor here for the (MLS) guys and I think that will show (Wednesday)."

At the other end of the field from Keller will be Everton's Tim Howard, Keller's successor on the U.S. team. Howard started his career in the MLS with the MetroStars -- now the New York Red Bulls -- before heading overseas when he got a chance to play in Europe.

Keller had already made that move and sent Howard off with some simple advice.

"He knew it was a big jump for me," Howard recalled. "But he just said the easiest thing about being a goalkeeper is you just have to save the ball. It doesn't matter what league you play in, what level. You just have to make the saves. It was a good piece of advice."

It's worked well for Keller, who had 47 shutouts with the national team and is second in the MLS with a goals against average of 0.80. Keller practiced with the MLS team for the first time Tuesday at Rio Tinto Stadium, home of Real Salt Lake and the site of Wednesday night's game. He stayed an extra day in Seattle for a chance to fly with the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels, an experience he said left him feeling as drained as after any workout and a little bit queasy.

"I was crushed when I got off that thing," he said.

Keller's stomach had settled by the time he worked out with his temporary teammates, most of whom were also new to the All-Star experience. The MLS team has only two players returning from last year's All-Star Game, a 3-2 victory over West Ham United.

Los Angeles Galaxy forward Landon Donovan is a nine-time All-Star and due to arrive in Utah on Wednesday. Donovan stayed home to nurse a strained left calf muscle.

The other returner is Chicago Fire midfielder Cuauhtemoc Blanco, who had a goal and an assist last year in the MLS' win over West Ham, also of the Premier League.

"It's not about getting respect any more. It's about winning games. I think we've gone past the point where it's like, 'Hey, let's show these guys we can play,"' MLS coach Dominic Kinnear said of the Houston Dynamo. "It's a good group of guys. They play well together automatically. They seem to click because good football minds all seem to stick together."

Everton is coming off a 1-0 exhibition loss to Argentina's River Plate on Saturday in Edmonton, Alberta. The Toffees have been playing without forward Yakubu Ayegbeni, who ruptured his Achilles' tendon in November and is just getting back to training with the club.

This is Everton's second trip to Utah in two years. The first was a 2-0 loss to Real Salt Lake in July 2007 at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Real's former home on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City.

Everton manager David Moyes said the talent level in the MLS has gradually increased and it has shown in the last five All-Star games.

"When you do get the chance to pick the best players, good payers make things happen. That's what the MLS will have. They'll have good players," Moyes said. "They'll give us a good test, but we'll give them a good test, as well."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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DOUG ALDEN AP Sports Writer


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