- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 29, 2002

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) Hands down, the strength of U.S. soccer is goalkeeping. Americans may not put the ball into the net very often, but they sure do keep it out.
Too bad Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel can't start in goal at the same time.
They are different, yet they are the same. It's the position U.S. coach Bruce Arena worries about the least, which is why he is considering splitting the first two games of the World Cup between them.
"The bottom line is that it's like splitting hairs," Arena said.
Keller, a 32-year-old from Lacey, Wash., is slimmer and scholarly looking off the field in his frameless glasses. He makes spectacular, leaping saves, darting off his line to defend his goal aggressively.
Friedel, a 31-year-old from Bay Village, Ohio, is just as bald but seems huge, with arms like an NBA center, even though at 6-foot-4 he is only two inches taller. He is better with his feet but also makes spectacular stops, as he showed in the May 12 win over Uruguay.
Both start in England's Premier League Friedel for Blackburn Rovers, Keller for Tottenham Hotspur meaning Americans regularly fill 10 percent of the most prestigious nets in soccer's homeland.
"They both make great saves," said U.S. captain Claudio Reyna, who plays for Sunderland and faces them both. "There's not much difference between them. Either way, we really can't go wrong."
The biggest difference?
Easy. Their voices.
After five seasons in England, Friedel sounds like a Brit. Not a Cockney accent but a working-class sound, just like the fans who cheer him from August until May. When he comes home, he sounds out of place.
"After about two, three weeks, if gets less," he said. "I'm from Ohio we have no accent. You adapt to where you are."
Keller was the backup to Tony Meola at the 1990 World Cup, and Friedel was No. 2 in 1994. Four years ago in France, Keller was No. 1, starting against Germany and Iran. After the Americans were all but eliminated, Friedel started against Yugoslavia.
In qualifying for this year's World Cup, Keller started eight times and Friedel seven. It may be the most even national team competition since Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence battled for the England goalie job in the 1970s and '80s.
"Those guys rarely have bad games," Arena said. "They are never disappointing."
They hate to talk about their competition, saying all they can do is work hard and that the coach would make the choice. The only time one was angry enough to get public attention was last June, when Friedel was bypassed for consecutive qualifiers, then asked to be left off the roster for the next one.
A few years ago, Keller was considered No. 1. But Friedel had the edge at the start of this year. He started the first 36 Premier League games for Blackburn, allowing 47 goals, and helped Rovers win the English League Cup, their first cup trophy since 1928. In all, he allowed 53 goals in 45 games.
"The last two years have gone extremely well for myself in a lot of aspects," Friedel said. "The big thing playing in England as opposed to America is you're always in a pressure situation. It's always do or die. In America, you don't have relegation. You don't have promotion. You don't have 20 million pounds of Sky TV money on the line."
While Keller has been playing in Europe since 1990, Friedel's career built more slowly. He spent 1995-96 with Galatasaray in Turkey, then joined Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew before transferring to Liverpool and playing the final 11 games of the 1997-98 season. He started 12 games the following season, then got a regular job when he was given a free transfer to Blackburn in November 2000.
In the northern England city, he became a hero, even if his fame there still isn't appreciated back home.
"In America, things have always been more of an uphill battle for me," he said.
After the 1990 World Cup, Keller signed with Millwall, where he stayed until 1996, earning the respect of fans at the Den, some of the roughest, toughest supporters in England. He followed with three seasons at Leicester City and two with Rayo Vallecano in Spain before returning to England last fall.
He played twice in the first 31 Premier League games with Tottenham this season, then started the last seven.
"I think it set me up fairly well going into next season," he said.
And it put him back into contention to start for the United States at the World Cup. Arena had said for months that it would be hard to start a player who wasn't on the field regularly for his club.
"It was good I had those games and feel sharp," he said.


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