Drew Carey, Kasey Keller Sound Off
Seattle's players, staff and ownership celebrated heartily afterward in RFK Stadium's visitors' locker room, spraying champagne and singing their traditional rendition of "Jingle Bells." FanHouse was there and spoke with former U.S. national team goalkeeper and Sounders captain Kasey Keller and minority owner and comedian Drew Carey about winning the Cup and what makes their club different from its competitors in Major League Soccer.
OPENING COMMENTS: Any time you're in a cup final, whether it's in Europe or it's in the States or it's with the national team or whatever, winning a cup is winning a cup. We were obviously excited. We really felt this game should have been played in Seattle so we really wanted to make a point, coming here and winning it for our fans and for our organization. That truly made this a first-class experience for everybody so far and a model for MLS. Our ownership group got pounded with champagne because that's the people they are. They're the guys. They're with us. We know they're part of it. A first-year organization or a 100-year organization, we're doing it the right way, and when you win things you win things it's great. Hopefully, long may it continue.
I was giving [United President] Kevin Payne a little bit of stick, and [U.S. Soccer CEO] Dan Flynn and stuff, just saying that this is our attendance for an autograph session [United drew 17,329 on Wednesday]. Obviously the D.C. fans were great. They were vocal. They were loud the whole game. But our fans in Seattle are something special. You saw what we traveled. We traveled several hundred to the game, 3,000 miles away. Imagine what it would have looked like in Seattle. It wasn't. It was here. We won it on foreign soil and we're taking it back home.
On whether Seattle fans understand and appreciate the Open Cup: I think the hardcore fanbase does. I think it was part of the, kind of the group that maybe have come in a little bit newer and didn't quite know what this was. But I think it's something that U.S. Soccer needs to do. They need to market this a little bit better, because it's a fun competition and I think if people truly knew that their local club team could actually be in the final, it would make more sense to them. But it's a great night....Hopefully there's more to come.
FANHOUSE: It's been a while since you've won a club trophy....
KELLER: Leicester was '97 [Keller won the League Cup with the Foxes]. It's been a while. I've been in two cup finals since and lost them both. I've won some [CONCACAF] Gold Cups where we destroyed some locker rooms so that was fun.
FANHOUSE: What's been more surprising, the success the Sounders have had this year off the field or the success on the field?
KELLER: It's a combination. You don't have one without the other. We did things the right way from the very beginning. We've got a great ownership group that's really doing things the way it should be done. That made the transition for myself so much easier.
FANHOUSE: But you couldn't have come back from England expecting it to be like this.
KELLER: This was a long process for me, to make this decision. It was on-again, off-again a couple times. I knew after the first game that I made the right choice. I would have really struggled if I would have gone to a club where they did things non-professional. We've got everything. We've got a great training ground, great fan support, a great stadium, a relationship with the Seahawks which is second to none to any other sports franchise in America. Regardless of MLS, probably any franchise to have that cooperation between the two. It should be the model for MLS going forward, and that's why we're so proud to win something in the first year.
FANHOUSE: It validates it?
KELLER: Exactly. When we knew we had a difficult game here -- the game should have been in Seattle but it wasn't -- the ownership group gets a charter and we come out here on the charter. We're staying at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City. We're not staying at a Holiday Inn somewhere eating the free continental breakfast. We're doing it the right way. To reward that is what's so important for myself and the players.
FANHOUSE: Now that you've had two-thirds of a season to observe, what do you think is good about the level of play in MLS and what needs improvement?
KELLER: If you look at the English Premier League and you think you're going to compete, you've got to think that basically the salary cap [per team in MLS, about $2.5 million] is about the average salary of one player in the English Premier League. You have to know your place, put it that way. I would just love to see the cap go up a little bit, a couple million, and just get it so the teams can just continue to do things the right way. We're an organization that's pushing that and I'm sure we can do that.
FANHOUSE: You've just beaten the club that was considered the flagship franchise of MLS, and now Seattle is staking its claim. Did you think you'd be this succesful both on and off the field, averaging so many fans while competing for a playoff spot and winning the Open Cup in your first season?
CAREY: You can't have one without the other, I don't think. One of the main reasons we've been successful is, I think a lot of sports teams, not just in soccer but teams in other sports, you can tell when they're run by accountants. They don't have any passion. It's just about selling tickets, a promotion here or there. You can always tell. We're a team that's not run by accountants. Everybody here has a passion for winning and success. All of us, between Adrian, me and Joe and, well, Paul Allen [laughs], nobody really needs money
We were never like, "Oh my God, we could really make money if we got into the MLS. Finally get out of debt. Pay off those college loans." It was all about, can we go to this thing and win and be successful. Honestly, in all the meetings we had with all the owners, I've never heard somebody bring up, "Hey, we gotta make money." I've never heard that phrase even uttered.
FANHOUSE: Does that attitude translate to wins on the field?
CAREY: It does because then every thought you have -- if you're an accountant, every thought you have is about how you can make a little bit of money. But when you're us, every thought you have and every decision you make is about, how can we kick everybody's butt? How can we win? We have to get his coach. We have to get this environment. We have to have these kinds of conditions. We have to have this personnel. And that guides all our decisions.
Plus the idea that the fans can get rid of [GM] Adrian [Hanauer], is a big deal, that the fans have some power and say-so and we're talking regularly with the fans, that affects all our decisions too in a way. We have to please the fans. We have to win. That's our main goal all the time. That's what drives all our decision making. That's what's in the back of our mind all the time.
FANHOUSE: So then how big is coming to D.C. and winning the Open Cup?
CAREY: It works. You get into the sports business and think, "Oh, I can make a buck. Or if I make a good stadium deal or something people will like me at the country club." I don't even know what people think when they get into the sports business, honestly, based on the decisions some people make. For the Seattle Sounders, it's all about how we can win, how we can put a winning team on the field. Every meeting I've been to, every discussion I've ever had with anybody, that's all that comes up....
The money will come. That's my philosophy anyway, if you do a good job. Your first thought shouldn't be about money. Your first thought should be about doing a good job. The money will flow.
FANHOUSE: How have the Sounders turned soccer fans in Seattle into MLS fans? It's a struggle for many clubs around the league.
CAREY: When we started marketing the team up in Seattle it was all through all the fan groups and on the internet. We didn't go a traditional way. It was more like introducing ourselves to these fan groups that were already there with the USL Sounders and saying "Hey, we're going to expand this and make it a bigger thing. Why don't you come along and be a part of it?" And we held hands and took the leap. That's a big thing. You want the fans on your side.
All our decisions are about pleasing the fans and winning games. That's what we're in the business for, to win trophies and championships. And to beat other teams in games, even individual games. If we had a losing season but made money, I'd call that a bad season. I know there are other teams, not just in MLS but in other leagues, baseball and football and stuff, where if they had a losing season but made money, they'd be congratulating themselves. That's not the way we do it.
FANHOUSE: How important is it to have a veteran like Keller as the face of this franchise?
CAREY: He's really well liked by the fans. He's a top-notch player. He makes the plays. When he says something it has a lot of importance, because he's been there, done that, you know what I mean? You need to have somebody who's one of the best players on the team stepping up and championing you on the field and motivating you.
In a league like MLS, people really need to be coached. When Ruud Gullit came to L.A., I think the mistake they made was they hired a guy who came in and didn't realize you need to teach people how to do their job and how to be better. We only have so much money to pay these guys and they're at a certain level. You have to teach them.
FANHOUSE: If MLS wanted to double or triple the salary cap tomorrow, would you be supportive?
CAREY: Totally. Because we're making money [laughs]. When people watch Real Madrid, Man. U., Barcelona, those are the teams they follow, it's like being a baseball fan. You might like the Yankees or the Red Sox or the Dodgers or whatever, but you go see a AAA game because you like the sport. That's why people are coming to MLS. They know they're not seeing Barcelona. They like the game. And what you need to do, we need to get the casual fan, we need to bring up the level so it's approaching the European level.
FANHOUSE: But fans in many countries that aren't England or Spain support their league. They love their hometown club, even though it's not Barcelona.
CAREY: I know. But that's the only sport they have. America's different. There's basketball, football, baseball. There's everything. You really have to step up and say, "You can't miss these games because you're seeing the best players America has to offer." When we're able to keep all the Clint Dempseys and Jozy Altidores, and keep them in town because we can afford them now, keeping these guys and having these stars raised in America will be a big thing for us.
But it's growing all the time, and if I didn't think it was growing I wouldn't have invested in it. I think it's a good investment. I really have a lot of faith in the future. There's nothing but upside for soccer in America.