Hard Work Pays Off for Stephen Keel

If asked to describe Red Bulls defender Stephen Keel in one word, that choice would have to be “workhorse.” Keel’s the guy in the gym everyone knows is putting extra time into his workouts to achieve higher results. He looks past the dings and dents that tend to rack up over the course of a rigorous MLS season and instead focuses on the 90 minutes in front of him. It’s a never-relax, go-hard mentality that got Keel to this point in his career, and it’s the same reason he was recently rewarded for his growth and contributions to the club.

“I think for me it’s important to keep the same mindset that I had last year when I came to camp, which is, ‘I have to fight and battle every day to earn my spot on the team and keep my place on the team,’” said Keel. “So obviously it’s great to sign a new contract, and it feels wonderful and I’m so thankful for the entire staff at the Red Bulls, but for me it’s every day I have to find a new way to get better, continue to improve on a daily basis and just help the team win in any capacity.”

General Manager Erik Soler announced Keel’s new contract with the Red Bulls Wednesday morning, highlighting the qualities and continued progress he saw in his defender that so many New York fans applauded during the 2011 campaign.

“Stephen had an excellent season last year and was a contributor in our postseason run,” said Soler. “He provides us a physical and experienced option in central defense and we are pleased that we were able to sign him to a new contract.”

Keel's not the flashy, tricky, spotlight-seeking sort of player. The six-foot defender focuses on locking down his opponents, clearing the zone and creating outlet passes that lead to scoring chances. He’s not opposed to using his “big ol mop” to clear the ball and is well aware of his responsibilities as a center back.

“I’m so thankful and so happy,” said Keel. “It’s just worked out perfectly in this situation. Last year, with the way things transpired, obviously you want a little more success with the team in the playoffs and everything, but today’s a different day, it’s a new year, a new season and I think we set our goals pretty high and we’re looking to obtain those this year.”

The Red Bulls kick off the first training session of the 2012 season Thursday at Montclair State University before heading off to Mexico at the end of the month for the first leg of preseason play.