Kelyn Rowe, the New England Revolution’s dynamic and energetic midfielder, is about to enter his fourth season with the club. In what has already been a fulfilling and impressive career, Rowe has earned a Generation Adidas contract, amassed 15 goals and 18 assists, and made it to an MLS Cup Final. Not a bad resume for a 23-year-old player who would have been leaving UCLA, the college he formerly played at, just this past spring.
Despite having already achieved so much in such little time, Rowe is a player with endless amounts of talent, a bold willingness to take players on, and tactical versatility that makes him nearly impossible to keep off the field. As Kelyn is gearing up for the 2015 season, he is poised for his best one yet, especially considering that nagging hamstring injuries that plagued him are now a thing of the past.
"I think the injuries are behind me," he said. "It was a long season last season, so for me getting healthy in the offseason, taking some time off, and resting a little bit both physically and mentally was important. I’m back and ready to go."
Now that Rowe is rounding into peak physical condition and rearing to play games again, he reflects on just how much he has grown so far - as a player and person. Four years removed from collegiate soccer, Rowe is starting to come into his own as a player and expresses himself with a level of maturity that was missing during the early parts of his career.
"You grow every year and I think I've done a lot of that in the mental side as well," he said. "Learning when to slow it down, when to go forward, when to keep the ball, is something you don't quite get as a young kid. Now guys have held me back some and helped me out, and I've actually gotten more chances because of it."
Outside of the mental and physical part of the game, Rowe feels that one of the biggest areas he has developed is his leadership. Often regarded as a young talent with a borderline harmful level of swagger, Rowe has acquired a broader understanding of the different ways he can help the Revs earn a victory.
While he may not don the captain’s armband or command the respect that inherently goes with a veteran player’s storied careers, he has been around the block himself. Rowe has enough MLS experience now that he is able to assert himself more confidently on the field.
"We've all kind of stepped up into a leadership role where there's not just one, but almost 11 leaders on the field and you're all talking to each other," he said. "Obviously I'm still young since I’m only 23 and still learning, but I do get the help every day from the guys who have been there. I've got more experience now though so it's nice."
As impressive as Rowe’s development of the intangibles has been, what has allowed him to become one of the best young players in MLS is his skill on the ball. He is best known for his long-range shooting ability, but just as impressive are things like combination plays, through balls, and crosses. As Jay Heaps, the Revs’ head coach, recently noted, Rowe is full of talent and can pull off things that few others can.
"I think Kelyn has all the talent in the world," he said. "You see that in the game, but for me I see even more of it in training. There are things he can do that no one else can do."
As for Rowe himself, he is just itching to get on the field and contribute in any way that he can. With the ability to play in several positions, Rowe has himself ready to help out the team in whatever way Heaps needs him to or the opponent requires.
He can man the wide midfield spots much like he did last year or slot in centrally just as he did during the early portions of his Revs career. Regardless of where Rowe lines up on the field, he is eager to contribute, especially considering the depth the Revs have in midfield.
"I can play all throughout the midfield, but I like the middle," he said. "I'm able to tuck in a lot on the outside so it's not too much of a difference. And we have guys like Lee [Nguyen], Jermaine [Jones], Scotty [Caldwell], [Andy] Dorman, and Diego [Fagundez] - just rack them up and name them we have it in the middle. If I can play with those guys I'm happier than sitting my time on the bench just to play in the middle. For me it's just getting on the field where I get to play with great guys."
If Rowe’s young career has anything to say, it is that it doesn’t matter where he lines up in the 4-2-3-1 formation. He has enough skill, tactical awareness, and soccer IQ to take over a game if he so desires. With that kind of reputation and ability, it is no surprise to hear his name among the conversation for the national team.
He has represented the U.S. at the U-18, U-20, and U-23 levels, and if Heaps has anything to say about the matter, his star midfielder should get the call-up to the senior level soon.
"I want to see him take himself to another level, which I think he continues to do," he said. "If he brings how he is in training onto the big field every day then the United States national team is not far away."
As for Rowe himself, he echoes his coach’s sentiments and is aware that through hard work and dedication, a cap with the national team is by all means attainable. It’s a place he believes he belongs and, despite missing a chunk of last season, is committed to bringing his career to that level.
"It’s somewhere I want to be," he said. "I wouldn't be playing this game if I didn't want to reach for the stars, but it's something you have to work for and I think it didn't help that I missed a chunk of the games last season. I'm going to keep working harder and harder."
When Rowe steps onto the field at Gillette Stadium or an away venue in 2015, the aspiration of wearing his country’s colors will be on the back of his mind. He is well aware that he has to take care of business with his club first and foremost. All signs are pointing to Rowe doing just that though, especially considering his injury woes are a thing of the past and he has matured by leaps and bounds.
At this rate, the honor of wearing the red, white, and blue is as close as ever.
"I want to feel that again and play for my country in front of thousands and thousands, but it's not that that's bringing me there," he said. "It's wanting to be the best and wanting to grow more and more."