An American Hero

"Kasey Keller"
Barcelona
2000

If ever there was a performance by one player in one game that deserved its own song, it was American keeper Kasey Keller's miraculous game against Brazil in the semifinals of the 1998 Gold Cup. Luckily, Virginia synth-pop band Barcelona has given it one.

In 1998, CONCACAF scheduled the Gold Cup, the North and Central American continental championship, for February, a few months before the 1998 World Cup in France. Brazil, the reigning World Cup champion, was invited as a special guest.

After a shaky start, including draws against Jamaica and Guatemala in the group stages, Brazil met the United States in the semifinals in Los Angeles on February 10, 2008. Incredibly, in the four years since they'd won the 1994 World Cup in the United States, Brazil had lost just three games out of the 56 they'd played in all competitions, including the 1995 and 1997 Copa America, the 1996 Gold Cup, and the 1997 Confederations Cup. The Brazilian record against the USA was even more dominant; between 1992 and 1996, the two teams played six games, with the Brazilians winning every game by a combined score of 9-0. The last and only American goals against Brazil prior to 1998 happened in a 4-3 friendly loss in 1932.

Barcelona's "Kasey Keller" tells the story of the 1998 USA-Brazil Gold Cup semifinal in a few lines:

Head for the touchline, Romario,
Touched off the crossbar, Ronaldinho,
Wait for the halftime--a Preki goal!
Look for the final with Mexico.
You won't get in--
It's Brazil, one to nil,
Thirty shots on goal, we both know you won't fail.
Kasey saves the game again!

Former Kansas City Wiz, Everton, and Red Star Belgrade midfielder Preki scored the first American goal against Brazil in sixty-six years, and the defense, led by Alexi Lalas in one of his last U.S. appearances, cleared a few balls off the line. But the story of the game was Leicester City keeper Keller's performance in goal for the USA. In the official U.S. Soccer highlight reel, you can see 1994 World Player of the Year Romario shake Keller's hand after one particularly impressive point-blank save. After the game, Romario would call it "the greatest performance I have ever seen by a goalkeeper."

"Thirty shots on goal" may be an exaggeration; the USSF credits Brazil with twenty-one shots, ten on goal. But Keller's performance was enough to make him a hero in the American soccer scene. Keller went on to play another decade at the highest level in England and Germany before returning to the U.S. in 2009 to play with the expansion Seattle Sounders. He will start his third year with the Sounders, which he says will be his last professional season, on March 15.

D.C. new-new-wave geek-synth band Barcelona (not to be confused with the Seattle indie outfit with the same name) commemorated the 1998 victory in this track on their 2000 album Zero One Infinity. The song is a simple, catchy, and straightforward ode to Keller's game, which would be the high point of 1998 for the U.S. men. A few days later, the USA would fall 1-0 to Mexico in the final on a Luis Hernandez goal. And the band sums up the rest of the year in the song's last line:

And we don't blame you for that fiasco
In France in ninety-eight.
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