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Club versus country calls leaves Keller in the cold

© Reuters 2002

SEATTLE, Washington, Feb. 27 (Reuters) - Kasey Keller was caught in the middle of a proverbial "club before country" tug-of-war of which he has no control he admitted on Wednesday.

The Tottenham Hotspur and United States goalkeeper, who has failed to command a first-team place for his club, now has to deal with having an international call-up blocked so he can essentially sit on the substitutes bench for Spurs.

Two weeks ago, Keller was released by Tottenham boss Glenn Hoddle to play for the U.S. in a March 2 friendly in Seattle against Honduras and a March 10 World Cup tune-up against Ecuador in Birmingham, Alabama.

While he has been deputising for Neil Sullivan at White Hart Lane, Keller is trying to solidify his claim on the starting place in the U.S. team for the World Cup despite the fact he has only played four times since joining Spurs in the close season from Rayo Vallecano in Spain.

Keller said Hoddle informed him on Friday that he would not be released for the Ecuador match in order that he would be available for a March 6 league fixture against Manchester United and an FA Cup quarterfinal clash with Chelsea on March 10.

"It's kind of frustrating making me come back (to Spurs) to sit," Keller told Reuters in an interview ahead of a U.S. training session.

"Glenn just kind of mentioned to me on Friday that I wasn't going to be able to play the second friendly." There was added irritation for Keller who said he looked forward to the Ecuador match since his mother, Deter Walker, lives near Birmingham.

"I'm pretty clueless as to what's going on, I mean, I understand to a degree. It would be no problem if I was playing for Spurs and I'm still going on the precedent that if I was needed, I would fly right back, but I can't understand this."

Keller says he and Hoddle have discussed the goalkeeping situation and Keller said he believed the issue was settled about being released for both U.S. matches.

"We went through it and talked and everything was fine," he said. "If (Neil Sullivan) gets injured, I would come back. It was the same story, 'I don't want to burden your World Cup chances' but now the issue is closed. I have to go back."

The two call-ups do not fall on dates mandated by FIFA for clubs to release players, thus Tottenham has rights to Keller's services.

"Spurs knew the rules, even though the deal was made earlier," Keller said. "Hoddle couldn't do anything but go back on his word. I have no problem with that, but I just want some consistency." Keller, 32, has played 55 times for the U.S. and was the number one keeper for the Americans in the 1998 World Cup finals.

"We would've loved to have him (Keller) for two games," said U.S. coach Bruce Arena, "but any opportunity for Kasey to play against a strong team like Honduras is still important for our team and for Kasey's continuing quest to be the number one keeper."

Keller said Arena had indicated that he would be in the first team when the U.S. plays Germany in a March 27 friendly in Rostock and an April 3 match against Mexico in Denver, Colorado.

"I just need to play well in any game I get," Keller said. "I have to show my worth to the team. Bruce (Arena) said decisions have to be made regardless of other situations, so I have to prove that I am too important to be left out."

Keller's rival for the starting place in the U.S. team is Brad Friedel who earned man of the match honours on Sunday in Blackburn Rovers' 2-1 win over Tottenham in the League Cup final.

It was another frustrating day for Keller who spent the final on the bench looking at his rival perform heroics.

Reports provided by

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