021313_isi_rowekelyn_mlsdb03312012105_(1) David Bernal/isiphotos.com
Player Spotlight

Kelyn Rowe: A Budding MLS Star Prepares for 2013

The UCLA standout and third overall pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft made a strong impression in his rookie season, but everybody seems to agree that Kelyn Rowe has the potential for a breakout season.

ASN Slideshow Rowekelyn_supplied_9
BY Kevin Koczwara Posted
February 15, 2013
11:38 AM
Editor's Note: See Kelyn Rowe at various stages of his young career in our slideshow at right.

KELYN ROWE IS READY to sit down and talk about his burgeoning soccer career, but first he has some important business to address.

Rowe takes out his iPhone and snaps a photo of his caffeinated beverage and then sends it to one of his friends via Snapchat, an app on his iPhone. Snapchat, Rowe enthusiastically explains, is better than Instagram, which he rarely uses anymore, because it allows the person who receives the picture only a few seconds to view the image before it disappears from their phone.

Sitting at a Starbucks in Norwood, Mass., and enthusing about this app, Rowe seems less like a gifted professional soccer player and more like, well, the 21-year-old kid that he is.

With the New England Revolution trading playmaker Benny Feilhaber to Sporting Kansas City this offseason, Rowe has a huge opportunity in front of him. Though just a second-year player, Rowe needs to step up and show he is ready to be a creative, consistent threat in the Revolution midfield.

"In this country we probably lack creative-type midfield players, and he fits that," Revolution General Manager Mike Burns said of Rowe. "He is a creative-type player. They’re not easy to find."

The former UCLA standout made 30 appearances out of 34 games last season, but his coaches noticed he went flat in the middle of the season. The pressure and physicality of playing professionally wore on the midfielder and his body, and he lost the zip that impressed so many people in the early part of the 2012 season.

That can't happen this season, and Rowe knows it.

ROWE STARTED SOCCER-SPECIFIC TRAINING when he was five years old. His mother, who was a soccer player herself, loved the game. Rowe's older sister played soccer. His father did too.

Rowe, who grew up in the Seattle area, worked with a personal coach three times a week, focusing on foot skills and awareness. But where he really learned the game was in his home. Juggling was not allowed in most parts of the house, but the kids were allowed to play soccer in an unfurnished room on the second floor.

"[My] older sister, younger sister, and parents would play," Rowe remembered. "When we got old enough that we started hitting the window and almost cracking the window, [my parents] put furniture in there and stopped it.”

That enthusiasm for the game, that sense of play, has never left Rowe. Much like his mother, New England coach Jay Heaps sometimes needs to remind Rowe to stick with the program and put the ball down.

"He always wants to be part of the action, " Heaps said. “If we’re doing a possession drill and we have three teams, with two teams playing and the third team doing stretching or some work, he always wants to be in a possession game. He never wants to step out for four minutes even.”

“So I always tell him, ‘Kelyn, go stretch, you’ll be in the next game—don’t worry,’" Heaps said.

That enthusiasm, along with Rowe's early training, set him up to begin his youth soccer career ahead of his peers. He typically played with older kids before joining Crossfire Premier, one of the top-ranked soccer clubs in America. Because the other kids were bigger and stronger, Rowe had to find other ways to succeed.

"I got used to physicality,” Rowe said. “I got used to jumping over tackles, being quicker than a guy rather than trying to body him up. Trying to think rather than just trying to dribble [around] everyone. I think that helped me through my whole career."

Playing for Crossfire meant Rowe was no longer just playing against local kids. It meant competing for bigger and better trophies. It also meant college coaches were watching.

When it came to choosing a college, there was only one choice for Rowe: UCLA. Rowe saw the Bruins play Washington University when he was 10, and he was mesmerized.

"I thought they were amazing, I really did," Rowe said. "Everything they did I thought was amazing. We used to drive down to Northern California to visit grandparents, aunts, and uncles—they all live there—and I thought that drive was amazing. I love California and I always wanted to live there."

Rowe's older sister was recruited by UCLA to play soccer and the 12-year-old Rowe joined her on one of the recruiting trips. It was a life-changing experience.

"I walked around the campus and the first thing I saw was one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen," Rowe said. "I was 12 years old, so I’m thinking, ‘Oh God, this is amazing.’ Then you go walk around the campus and it’s beautiful, it’s sunny. They took us to Pauley Pavilion. It’s honestly paradise and I still think that today. It was an easy decision."

In his first season as a Bruin, coach Jorge Salcedo gave Rowe the No. 10 jersey, but no guarantees of playing time.

"Coming in, Jorge Salcedo said, 'You're going to have to work hard for it. I'm not going to give it to you like every other coach has,'” Rowe recalled.

“I said, 'OK. I guarantee you're going to give it to me, though.'”

“He said, 'Good.'”

“In my first year I played and started in just about every game,” Rowe said with satisfaction.

Rowe played well his freshman season, chipping in 10 assists and winning the Pac 10 Freshman of the Year award. He also won over plenty of MLS scouts and contemplated leaving college after just one year.

Ultimately, he decided against it: “I was still 18,” Rowe said. “I wasn’t ready to go live on my own.”

The move paid off. Rowe performed even better in his second season, scoring seven goals and adding 10 more assists. He earned a spot on the All Pac 10 First Team and Third Team All-American honors. Impressed by his talent and pedigree, the Revolution selected Rowe third overall in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft.

He made an immediate impression with the Revs.

"When he came into preseason we saw a fresh Kelyn Rowe," Heaps said. "He was flying. He had the best preseason out of any of the players we had in camp."

In the buildup to the 2012 campaign, Rowe created scoring opportunities for himself and others, and he never backed down from a challenge. Like most rookies, he encountered some ups and downs during the season, but Rowe held his own, scoring three goals and supplying five assists.

THE FEELING AMONG REVS OFFICIALS is that Rowe has much more where that came from. Heaps, in fact, sees similarities between his young midfielder and former New England Revolution great Steve Ralston.

"After the first part of the year [Rowe] got banged up,” Heaps said, “but I still think when he hits that form again he’s going to be a really good player not only in this league but also on the national team as well.”

Rowe already has experience at the U.S. U-18 and U-20 level, and he is the kind of player Jurgen Klinsmann could use on the full national team at some point. He is flexible—comfortable on either wing, in the center of the midfield, or just behind the forward. He is technically gifted and very comfortable on the ball. He plays up and down the field, he likes to attack defenses, and he always wants the ball at his feet.

Not immediately, though.

"I think he has to put in his time at the full professional level before he shows up on the full national team," Heaps said. "For me, it’s just about putting your time in, learning, and getting better. Those calls come when you’ve done well in this league and when you perform in this league.”

That’s the task immediately ahead of Rowe. The Revolution suffered through a dismal 2012 season, winning just nine of its 34 league matches and finishing in ninth place in the 10-team Eastern Conference. Talismanic midfielder Shalrie Joseph, 34, is gone. Feilhaber, 28 years old and also a midfielder, is gone.

A youth movement is in full swing in New England, and Rowe’s big challenge is to strike a balance between giddy exuberance and professional maturity.

“I see some resemblance to me because he’s so competitive and he wants to play all the time,” Heaps said. “That’s a great quality to have and I hope it continues to grow."

Kevin Koczwara is a journalist in Central Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter.

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