The Legacy Series spotlights individuals who have had a hand (and foot) in shaping St. Louis into America’s first soccer capital.
Ty Keough: Always Focused on the Game
By Michael Haffner
It’s a word coaches often say to players. Because like all sports, soccer is as much of a mental game as a physical one. It requires deep focus to be aware of all the movements on the pitch, beyond just following the ball.
But the act of focusing on the game also applies to everyone in the stadium. Whether you’re playing on the field; standing on the sideline as a coach; looking down from the broadcast booth or sitting in the stands as a fan; we all share a collective focus. And yet, we each bring different experiences and knowledge of the sport that affect what we’re seeing and cause us to focus on different players or elements of the game.
For Ty Keough, his career as a player, coach, and broadcaster allows him to focus on the game from perspectives that most of us will never see. He has traveled all over the world as both a player for the U.S. Men’s National Team and as a TV broadcaster covering the World Cup and MLS. Like so many greats from St. Louis, Missouri, his career took off at St. Louis University where he was named four-time All-American as a dynamic midfielder. But before he became a Billiken and well before he became a broadcaster for the very first MLS soccer match in 1996, he was simply a bright-eyed boy who traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico to learn from the greatest soccer players in the world.
An Education in Soccer by Watching the Best
There are some things a coach can’t teach that a player must discover on their own. No amount of training can teach one of the most important elements of soccer: passion. Despite having a long professional career, Keough learned the most about soccer when he was sitting in the stands as a fan.
“When you’re younger, you’re more impressionable,” Keough said. “You learn to love the game.”
Keough’s mother was raised in Guadalajara, Mexico, which provided an opportunity for his St. Louis-based family to travel and attend the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. He attended every game played in Guadalajara that summer, including seeing the 1970 Brazilian team which is still considered one of the greatest teams of all time. Brazil went on to win the tournament, which ended up being the last World Cup for the greatest player to ever play the beautiful game: Pelé.
Pelé and other international stars weren’t the only soccer legends that the eager fan in the stands looked up to. He had a legend in his own home. An icon in the St. Louis soccer community, Harry Keough was a right back on the 1950 U.S. Men’s National Team that defeated England 1-0 in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. He was one of the five famed St. Louisans who played in the celebrated match. After making 19 appearances for the U.S. from 1949-1957, Harry Keough went on to coach at St. Louis University where he led the team to five NCAA Championships between 1967-1982. His lasting impact on the national and international stage earned him a spot in the St. Louis Soccer Hall of Fame in 1972 and in the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1976, along with his 1950 U.S. teammates.
To this day, the Keough family and their legacy in the sport are honored through the Keough Award – an award given to the top male and female soccer players from across St. Louis. Harry Keough was there that summer in Guadalajara to lean down and show his son what to focus on about soccer. “Watch this particular player.”
“I had a storied childhood of seeing the best players in the world,” Ty Keough said. “Back then, there wasn’t soccer on television. You couldn’t turn on a TV and watch these games if you lived in the United States.”
It was through watching and listening that Keough was able to understand the level of passion and love there is for soccer around the world while honing skills he would later use on and off the field.
Stepping Out from His Father’s Shadow on the Pitch
If it wasn’t already evident, it was soon very clear that the Keough family had soccer in their blood. In 1973, Ty Keough won the Missouri State Championship with St. Louis University High School alongside other notable players including Tim Twellman (now the Sporting Community Relations Director at St. Louis CITY SC) and Dan Flynn (former Secretary-General for the U.S. Soccer Federation). He could have gone anywhere to play soccer in college, but he chose to play for the man that he called both dad and coach. Harry Keough was Ty’s coach for all four of his years at St. Louis University.
American all four years at SLU, Ty Keough’s professional career took off with the San Diego Sockers in the North American Soccer League and the St. Louis Steamers where he was a three-time Major Indoor Soccer League All-Star. It’s hard to believe, but the popularity of the Steamers indoor soccer team once surpassed hockey in St. Louis because of the local talent on display. “We would draw 17-18,000 people per game, while the Blues averaged 13,000. And most of these players grew up right here in St. Louis.”
While Keough is quick to point out how proud he is that he got to play in front of his hometown on a professional level, he had his sights on a much bigger goal.
“I would dream about representing my country.”
That dream became a reality in 1979, where he joined the U.S. men’s national team training for the Olympics. A crucial win in San Jose against Costa Rica booked Keough and his teammates a ticket to the Olympics – he was in the starting 11 for that match. However, his dream came to a screeching halt when the U.S did not compete at the 1980 Olympics due to a boycott by the U.S. of the games being held in the Soviet Union. His National Team career included 14 games, earning eight caps.
In 1986, he hung up the cleats as a player and focused his attention on coaching, leading Washington University in St. Louis men’s soccer team for 10 seasons. Keough racked up the highest winning percentage as a head coach for the Bears (.723) and ranks third in wins with 136. His voice made such an impact on the sidelines that he realized he could use it as a storyteller for a new professional league that was about to take soccer to the next level in the U.S.
A Storyteller for the Audience at Home
It was a brief stint in the broadcast booth with the St. Louis Steamers that opened the broadcasting-booth door for Keough.
“Bud Sports did all the Blues and Steamers games back then. When we lost, no one would want to talk to the broadcasters. So, I volunteered… if they covered us when we won, why shouldn’t they get what they want when we lost? They [The Steamers] remembered me years later, and I was asked to be a guest for Steamers games after I retired.”
Coming off the 1994 World Cup, the energy for soccer in the U.S was electric. The U.S played host to record-breaking attendance at almost every match and delivered a respectable team performance despite getting knocked out by Brazil. Americans were ready for a new era of professional soccer.
“They wanted to start MLS that year after the World Cup, but they didn’t have the pieces in place yet.”
However, fans didn’t have to wait too much longer. The first game in MLS history was played on April 6, 1996, between D.C. United and the San Jose Clash and was televised on ESPN. In the broadcast booth for the inaugural game alongside Phil Schoen was none other than Keough.
“They created an amazing soccer environment. For once, I didn’t see uprights behind the goals. It looked like the World’s game… it wasn’t in the shadow of American football.”
Back then, broadcasters didn’t have the high-definition, wide-screen monitors that they have now to be able to study plays and connect-the-dots.
“At most you had a 12-inch diagonal TV. I’m jealous of what they have now.”
Hearing Keough recount stories of being in the booth and having a hand in figuring out a team’s play or plan-of-attack before it happened to be “prophetic” make something he said earlier resonate even more: “The great thing about soccer is that there are so many ways to look at it.”
The broadcasting booth was yet another spot in the stadium where Keough was able to continue to grow his passion for the game.
The Many Steps Leading to the Big Moment
Building a club like St. Louis CITY SC isn’t something that happens overnight. As fans have seen since the club first announced plans in 2019, there are many steps before the inaugural season, and Keough has nothing but praise for the journey he’s seen unfold.
“The ownership is local and genuinely cares about St. Louis. Lutz [Pfannenstiel] is out there at games and part of the community. They all are committed to soccer here in St. Louis.”
Even recent hires like John Hackworth (Director of Coaching) piqued the interest of Keough and his former teammates and coaches who share a unanimous consensus that he’s “the real deal.”
In many ways, seeing the long run-up to St. Louis CITY’s kickoff is defined by so many historical moments, moves, and plays to get to where it is today. People like Keough who have been a part of the long soccer history in St. Louis can see even more of this big picture. “They never take the replays back long enough,” he injects about current broadcasts, but this could just as easily be attributed to life. There are so many steps that lead to the big moment. A play develops with multiple touches… multiple assists. As a player, coach, and commentator, Keough has the ability to put into focus so many key elements of soccer that positively affect how you view the game. These days, you don’t need to travel to Mexico to see the greatest players in the world. Beyond turning on the TV for the big match, you might be able to watch them in-person right in your backyard. Your knowledge of the game might dictate your perception, but your appreciation of the game is never limited by what you see.