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With stock rising, Keller waits to see if he'll be No. 1 MLS pick

St. Louis University beats Fordham in shootout, advances to A-10 final

Fordham forward Alberto Pangrazzi (9) and Saint Louis midfielder Kipp Keller (4) battle for a header in the first half during a game between Fordham and St. Louis University in the men's soccer 2021 A-10 Championship-semifinal at Hermann Stadium in St. Louis on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

If 2021 was going to be the year Kipp Keller emerged in the soccer world, he would have to overcome a significant obstacle in the form of a broken leg that wouldn’t have been a problem any other year.

But a broken fibula that resulted from a kick to the shin in a St. Louis University scrimmage in December 2020 had Keller hobbled one month before the start of the COVID-delayed season last winter and spring.

Without having the leg checked by a doctor, he tried to run two weeks after the injury. He couldn’t. Finally, an X-ray showed the break. He cried.

Then Keller took what was probably the least desirable path before getting on the field for SLU and coach Kevin Kalish. In his first game back, he played 90 minutes on Feb. 22.

“I rested four weeks, missed a few games and told Kevin I was ready to go,” Keller said. “One doctor cleared me and one didn’t. It was a little questionable. I was in pain most of the season. I got used to it. I wore a little shin guard to protect it if I got kicked, and I got kicked a few times. It didn’t feel good.”

Without further damage, Keller recovered during the summer and went on to become the Atlantic 10 defender of the year in the fall. That was just the start of his meteoric rise.

SLU’s center back was invited to the MLS combine with three teammates in December. He was offered a Generation Adidas contract by the MLS a few weeks later, guaranteeing his salary with the league for two years.

And last week his name showed up in a mock draft by Top Drawer Soccer as the No. 1 projected pick by Charlotte FC for the MLS SuperDraft to be held Tuesday afternoon.

It was one opinion in one publication, but the mention garnered Keller considerable public buzz in the week leading to the draft. It’s a buzz that already existed in MLS circles, whether he is picked No. 1 or not.

“I don’t know how I ended up at No. 1,” he said. “It’s great, but I’m more excited for the opportunity no matter where I go. The number doesn’t matter to me. It’s about going to a team that wants me. I’m trying not to read these things on Twitter and different articles. I try, but it’s hard not to.”

After three seasons at SLU, Keller has proved to be a big, physical and athletic prospect. It’s not exactly how he arrived in college.

When he committed to Kalish at the end of his junior high school season at Principia High, Keller was 5-10 and on the skinny side. He had been coached off and on for about seven years by Kalish and knew he wanted to play at SLU.

“Kipp was a late developer physically,” Kalish said. “He always had an unbelievably driven mindset, but when he committed I was taller than him. We didn’t expect him to become 6-3 and 185 (pounds). He runs like the wind. It’s hard to project at times in youth development, but we thought he’d be a special player.”

Keller impressed at the combine by winning the vertical leap in a field of 44 players. He had the third best time over 30 meters. He felt he played well in two scrimmages in front of scouts from every MLS team.

The offer of a Generation Adidas contract was a strong hint that he would be a high draft pick. SLU’s Patrick Schulte and Isaiah Parker also received GA contracts and are projected in the first round along with Billiken Simon Becher.

Keller, who has long gone by Kippy to differentiate him from his father, Kipp, grew up in an athletic family. His twin sister, who was his roommate at SLU, played soccer at Principia High. Brother Kaden played at Michigan State for a year and brother Kaleb played for Principia College.

“It’s been my goal to play pro soccer my whole life,” Keller said. “I was confident I’d get there at some point but didn’t really think I could until probably my freshman year of college. This season, Kevin gave me so much trust and confidence giving me the captain’s arm band (with three others).”

Kalish, who never has a shortage of compliments for his players, called Keller the best player in the country last week. He had to settle for second team All-American status as voted on by the United Soccer Coaches.

His status as a top MLS prospect is cemented. Another mock draft has Keller being taken second by FC Cincinnati. Wherever and whenever he goes, he knows he’ll be leaving for a new home in less than a week.

Keller interviewed with teams at the combine and had at least two Zoom interviews with teams last week. He’ll be ready at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the event he does go No. 1.

“Kippy can easily be the No. 1 draft pick,” Kalish said. “I’ve said to a lot of pro clubs, he has a lot of intangibles to be a long-term professional, and I think he’s physically ready.”

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