As a commentator and analyst for FOX Soccer, Keith Costigan (above, left, 2002) gets to make a living doing what most soccer fans only dream about — watching soccer.
Costigan, 35, is also an ardent Timbers’ supporter. Which is the result of the Dublin, Ireland, native suiting up for the A-League Portland Timbers as a left back during professional soccer’s reemergence in the Rose City during the 2001 and 2002 seasons.
Also serving in his fourth year as an assistant coach with the men’s soccer program at Cal State Bakersfield, Costigan’s life has revolved around soccer and the Irishman makes no mistake that he’s glad to be around the game even if his professional playing days are over.
During two seasons with the Timbers, Costigan recorded 11 assists, including a team-high seven during the 2001 season. In 2002, he played a team-best 2,596 minutes in 22 appearances and chipped in four assists as the Timbers made the A-League playoffs in both seasons.
After playing collegiately at Cal State Bakersfield, you spent a brief spell with Luton Town (then of England’s Football League Second Division), before coming to Portland. What caused you to leave Luton Town for the Rose City?
KC: “With Luton at the time, I was trying to earn a contract. I was coming in on the back of someone recommending me to (coach) Lennie Lawrence, and he was fired the day I got there. Ricky Hill was the manager then and Ricky honored the agreement to have me there. I came back to the States and by the time I was going to go back again there was another new manager in Joe Kinnear. It was a case of me biting the bullet and realizing that my best opportunity to play was going to be over here (in the US).”
So, how did you then end up with the Timbers?
KC: “The Nashville Metros had an English coach and they were trying to sign me for the USL, but I wasn’t to sure about it going that way. A coach in California mentioned to me that Portland was coming back (into professional soccer), so I called (Timbers head coach) Bobby (Howe), he asked me to come out and play in a training match and it kind of just spiraled from there.”
Speaking of Bobby Howe, he played as a defender just like you. What’s the biggest lesson you took from his guidance as a coach?
KC: “He made me as a player. Before I went to Portland, all I wanted to do was go forward, I didn’t understand when to press and when to drop very well as a defender. He made me an all-around better player. In my coaching now, I still think that Bobby influenced me and my style today because I thought he was unbelievable to work for. He made me get the most out of the talents I had.”
You featured for the Timbers for two seasons and played a team-high 2,596 minutes in 2002. What’s your greatest memory of playing in Portland?
KC: “There were so many great memories. Every home game was incredible. One of my fondest memories is maybe my first start against San Diego when I set up the winning goal. I think there was another when I set up Jeff Clarke for a winning goal in extra time against Minnesota. We had a good bunch of players, the group enjoyed being around each other. I’ll always look back on the two years there as some of the best of my life.”
Do you still follow the Timbers closely?
KC: “I make no bones about it, even on the show, that I’m a Timbers fan. I was a long-suffering Timbers fan because since I played up there, I wanted MLS there. I would say it every year — Portland is the best city to get a franchise, the fan base there will do us proud — and they’ve shown that. Every week it’s the first fixture I look for. When I saw the fans sing the National Anthem for the first time I remember getting chills just thinking about how proud I was to be involved in Portland many moons ago.”
What do you remember most about the fan support during your time with the Timbers?
KC: “They were knowledgeable fans. We had a mixed bunch — we had players from New Zealand, Ireland, Trindad, Syria, everything — and if you looked out to Section 107 they had every flag of every nation. They just made you feel welcome. They got behind the team, they wanted to watch good football. On occasions, they were obviously disappointed if we didn’t play well, but I always felt from top-to-bottom we had one of the most fanatical groups in USL. Great people, whether it rained or not, they were there with their flags supporting every player in the squad.”
You have a degree in finance, so how did you get into broadcasting?
KC: “During the offseason, I used to come down here (to LA) and Bobby set up for me to train with the LA Galaxy. I became friends with Nick Webster who is a producer with FOX and has been on several shows himself. He asked me to do a game one day and it was never something I really thought of before. I did the game and the rest was kind of history. It’s different than coaching, you’re analyzing the game but you’re analyzing someone else’s decisions. It’s not something I was always fond of — listening to people critique us when we played — but it is a different side of the game. I’m just enjoying the fact that I earn my living around what I love to do most, which is play or watch soccer.”