After a tough Saturday night at Q2, you may still be processing The Verde and Black dropping all three points to St. Louis City SC in their first-ever MLS match. Or maybe you’ve had enough time to go through the Five Stages of Grief and have started to look at the bright side of things.
Wherever you currently stand as an Austin FC supporter, we can all probably agree on the following: one Austin FC defender had a rough night against City.
Kipp Keller made an indefensible mistake during the season opener that had a direct result on the outcome of the match. Ok, Keller made multiple mistakes. Ok, ok, literally all three goals are a result of the errors that Keller made. So, yeah, maybe not his best day on the soccer pitch.
As a supporter, it’s incredibly frustrating to watch. Months of anticipation were undone by an injury to Julio Cascante not even 15 minutes into the season, followed by a substitution that simply didn’t work out.
But you know who else was incredibly frustrated? More than me, more than you, more than the guy in your row that gets up 10 times a match: Kipp Keller.
Look, I didn’t play competitive sports outside of high school basketball, but I do remember those nights when I made a mistake that cost my team. So if a 16-year-old kid playing basketball for (relatively) low stakes would feel terrible for a costly error on the court, well, you can imagine what 22-year-old Keller is going through right now.
In August, Arsenal’s 21-year-old center-back, William Saliba scored an own goal in his home debut at Emirates Stadium. Granted, it wasn’t as egregious as Keller’s back pass, and it happened after being up 2-0, but it definitely wasn’t the way Saliba envisioned his career starting for the Gunners.
I knew right away that what happened next was going to be very important for his development as a young defender, and his future with the club (without trying to sound hyperbolic, I truly believe that). In the video, you’ll immediately see goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale pat Saliba on the back of the head as a sign of support. But what you hear is more important. You don’t hear groans, boos, or jeers at the Emirates. You actually hear the supporters applaud. You hear them get louder. The message from them was clear: you made a mistake, but we support you. We’re with you.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said post-match, “I think the crowd was special, especially after Saliba’s own goal. The way they reacted was something I’ve never seen in football; the amount of support and connection they are showing with us, and especially with William, lifted the team straight away. I have to thank them so much for that.”
Saliba has started every Premier League match for Arsenal since and is a big reason why they’re currently top of the league in England. He said this about his time at Arsenal last week: “I want to win everything possible here at Arsenal — and to put the club back on the very top. I want to win every title.”
To be clear, Saliba is a generational center-back who was named Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year last season. Kipp Keller just made his seventh appearance for Austin FC in two seasons. If Saliba continues on his current trajectory, he’ll be one of the best defenders in the world. Keller will likely never play beyond MLS. All that aside, the lesson here is clear: supporting your players during their worst moments can have a positive effect on their performance and how they view their place at their respective club.
With four total competitions this season, it’s safe to say that we’ll play over 40 competitive matches this season. Even if Cascante’s knee injury isn’t serious and he starts on Saturday against Montreal, Kipp Keller will play again for Austin FC this season. Yes, we could have addressed our depth at center back in the offseason, but until the summer transfer window opens up, this is our roster and these are our players. Kipp Keller is one of our own.
Remember that the next time Kipp gets a touch during a match. Support him. Don’t groan, boo, or jeer. He’ll hear you, and you know who else will hear you?
Brad Stuver will hear you.
Diego Fagundez will hear you.
Sebastian Driussi will hear you.
Every player on the pitch, on the bench, and in the stands will hear you.
And if they hear negativity, they’ll all be thinking: Damn, that could easily be me.
Driussi said this after signing his new deal earlier this month, “I’m delighted to sign a new contract with Austin FC. This Club and community have made Austin feel like home for my family and me. I have big ambitions here both personally and for the team, and I’m excited to work with my teammates, Josh, and the staff to achieve them.”
Driussi had his list of suitors, and no Austin FC fan could have faulted him for leaving. But he chose to stay because he’s found a home in Austin and has made a connection with our club. And a big reason for that is because we’ve been able to cultivate a culture where we love and support the eleven players on the pitch.
And if it isn’t enough that Driussi has named Q2 as a special place, you can take the word of the players around Major League Soccer. They, after all, voted Q2 as their favorite place to play last season.
I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I imagine it’s because we’ve created something that doesn’t exist in most MLS stadiums. We love our team and we support them, en las buenas y en las malas.
Now, more than ever, we have to do that for one of our own.
Estamos contigo, Kipp. Pa’lante.
Photos courtesy of Yahoo Sports
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