With the No. 5 pick in Tuesday’s 2022 MLS SuperDraft, Austin FC always had its eye on Kipp Keller, who many regarded as the top center back prospect available after a stellar collegiate career at Saint Louis University. But given his reputation, it was a bit of a surprise that Keller was still on the board by the time it was ATXFC’s turn to make its first-round selection.
Having picked midfielder Daniel Pereira from Virginia Tech with the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 SuperDraft, the Verde & Black grabbed another highly touted Generation adidas player this year, scooping up Keller in what felt like a too-good-to-be-true moment when the defender didn’t get taken in the top four picks.
For Keller himself, hearing Pereira read his name was the culmination of years of hard work.
“It was an unbelievable feeling,” said Keller of the moment he was drafted. “Just being there with my family and my friends and having people like Claudio [Reyna] and Josh [Wolff] believing in a kid from St. Louis, it means the world.
“I was just hoping I would land in Austin. It just felt right with my interviews, in talking to both Josh and Claudio it seemed like the perfect fit. I’m just so glad they picked me and I’m so excited to get started.”
With Austin FC’s 2022 preseason getting underway this Sunday, Keller won’t have to wait long. His on-field resume speaks for itself: the St. Louis native made 49 appearances (48 starts) for SLU from 2019 to 2021, recording five (5) goals and two (2) assists. He was named the Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year and a First Team All-Conference selection for the Fall 2021 season.
The 21-year-old center back led the Billikens to an undefeated regular season, Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament titles, and an NCAA Tournament quarterfinal appearance in 2021 en route to being named a United Soccer Coaches Second Team All-American. At 6 feet 3 inches tall, the first thing that catches the eye about Keller is his pro-ready size.
But Keller played as a midfielder up until the start of his collegiate career, when he switched to center back. That background means he is more comfortable on the ball than you might expect, something that bodes well for the role he’d likely fill in Head Coach Josh Wolff’s system at Austin FC.
“On the ball, I think playing midfield definitely helped me a lot technically,” said Keller. “Transitioning from midfield to center back, being able to feel composed on the ball, whether it’s just stepping in or playing a 20-yard pass, I feel comfortable doing that.
“I would say I am a good athlete, I’m fast and I’m good in the air,” he added when asked about his playing style. “I’m also a competitor, I like to win. I like to wear my heart on my sleeve, I’m all about the team and I’m going to put the team first no matter what.”
As he looks ahead to his rookie season in Major League Soccer and prepares to make the leap from the college game to the professional level, Keller plans to apply that competitive spirit and will to win day in and day out.
“To come in and prove myself, to my teammates, Josh, Claudio, all the fans and everyone in the organization,” said Keller when asked about his goals for the season. “Whether I’m on the bench or starting every game, I’m going to give it all I got, and that’s who you’re going to get. I obviously want to win trophies and help the team win as much as possible."