Keller king of his castle

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TOENISVORST, Germany (AP) – Kasey Keller speeds home along the autobahn after practice each day, then winds down country roads until the two turrets appear through the trees, the black metal gates swing open and he pulls into the driveway.

He may very well be the only player preparing for the World Cup who makes his home in a castle.

Next to a cattle farm in a small town in northwest Germany, the starting goalkeeper for the U.S. World Cup team lives with his wife, two children and Rufus, a white Maltese, in a 1,000-year-old rented castle.

His renovated four-floor kingdom is complete with two towers, moat and chapel. Instead of a dungeon, the basement has a spa with pool, Jacuzzi and steam room.

How did a 36-year-old goalkeeper, who grew up on an egg farm in Lacey, Wash., wind up spending nights in a brick-and-stone tower, like some medieval prisoner?

It began in a most modern way: His wife spotted the castle on the Internet after he left London’s Tottenham Hotspur in January 2005 and signed with a team that has perhaps the longest name in professional sports: Borussia Moenchengladbach. It’s about a 20-minute drive north from the team’s stadium and practice fields.

“We wanted to be closer, but we couldn’t find the house we were looking for,” he said on a cold March afternoon with forbidding, gray skies. “I had a look at it. Kristin and the kids came over and had a look at it. They thought it would be cool, and I thought it would be cool. For a short period of time, a couple of years, it’s kind of fun.”

Chloe and Cameron, 8-year-old twins, get to play princess and prince from their tower-top bedroom, but get all the conveniences, too, such as laptops and the indoor pool. Outside, near the bridge over the moat, a statue sits in the muskrat-infested garden, most likely of Aphrodite, he says. Decayed gargoyles keep vigil over the castle wall, perhaps to ward off evil spirits.

Inside, contemporary furniture fills a living room with a black and white checkerboard floor and fireplace. A blue and green painting of a soccer goal by British artist Mackenzie Thorpe hangs prominently.

“The original structure was built in 970, and I think another major construction was in the 1200s,” he said “Then in the mid-1800s it burned out and sat derelict for 150 years. Because it’s one of the oldest castles in Germany, the historic society gave some grants if somebody would rebuild it. And then they built this middle part, between the two towers. The current owner built it after the remodeling but then extended it, put in the deck and the conservatory and added onto the kitchen and then built the spa in the basement.”

It’s in the North Rhine-Westphalia state, between Duesseldorf and the Dutch border city Venlo. He won’t put a price on what it costs to live in the castle – he has a one-year lease with a one-year option – but says “it’s not cheap.”

“It’s like an antique car,” Keller said. “There’s always something that needs to be done. That’s the only real drawback: You’re living in a 1,000-year old property.”

Keller says the castle is what’s known as a Haus Donk, built on a mound created from the dirt dug out for the moat, and probably once was the home of a noble.

Despite its size, the house isn’t convenient for guests because of the layout.

“When your bedroom is two stories up a tight spiral staircase with no bathroom up there, you get a workout staying in this house, that’s for sure,” he said. “And the shower’s down in the spa.”

Keller was among the earliest American soccer players to heard to Europe, where top stars make millions of dollars more than they could earn in the United States, and has played for Millwall, Leicester City, Spurs and Southampton in England, and Rayo Vallecano in Spain. The twins learned Spanish and are now taking German lessons.

“We’ve also been fortunate that we’ve lived in such great cities, that we weren’t stuck in places where you just felt isolated. If you can’t enjoy yourself in London or Madrid or Duesseldorf, then you’re not trying very hard,” he said, echoing Samuel Johnson’s line that “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”

Keller has had one of the longest careers in the history of the U.S. national team. A backup on the 1990 roster and the starter in 1998, he has a U.S. record 50 wins and 44 shutouts, and his 91 international appearances are second among American goalkeepers behind Tony Meola’s 100.

Disappointed when he lost out to Brad Friedel for the starting job four years ago, Keller stayed with the national team into his mid-30s while Friedel choose to limit himself to club soccer. Ever since the United States finished last at the 1998 tournament in France, Keller has been waiting for another chance.

“I’m not sure he’s been real patient,” U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. “I think it’s his time.”

Keller has sparked the team with his play and fire. He made three spectacular saves in a five-second span in a World Cup qualifier at Panama last June. U.S. defenders speak of the added confidence they have because they know that Keller is there to make stops if they mess up.

In Germany, he’s had to discipline himself to keeping alert in games during what was the coldest winter in three or four decades. He has become a favorite with his club – at one game fans raised a banner with his caricature and the words “Crazy Keller.”

In a few years it will be time to head home to the States, perhaps to finish his career with Major League Soccer. The Kellers also have a home in Olympia, Wash., and are building another in Tamarack, Idaho.

“They’ve been in three different cities. They’ve had three different schools. They’ve been in three different countries. They don’t know what is normal. They’re looking forward to having some stability,” he said of the kids. “We’d like to be able to go home and then at least stay there and let the kids finish school. That would be the ideal.”

AP-ES-04-14-06 1424EDT

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