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Kelyn Rowe thrives in unfamiliar outside back role vs. Chicago Fire

The midfielder was a surprise inclusion in the Revolution's makeshift back line against their Eastern Conference foe.

Rowe has played every position but center back and goalkeeper this season.
Rowe has played every position but center back and goalkeeper this season.
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe it's time to called Kelyn Rowe "Mr. Versatile." A surprising lineup decision emerged in the New England Revolution's 2-0 win over the Chicago Fire, as the fifth-year player turned in his midfield boots for a stint at right back.

To put it lightly, the Federal Way, Washington native's inclusion alongside Andrew Farrell, Je-Vaughn Watson and London Woodberry was a shock, especially given his penchant for the extraordinary. However, Rowe held his own against wingback Brandon Vincent in the first half, and kept veteran midfielder Arturo Alvarez relatively quiet in the second stanza.

Watch how the Revs took apart first-year head coach Veljko Paunovic's side.

The move, according to head coach Jay Heaps, was one of necessity due to injuries. And while it may not be a long-term solution, Rowe's showing certainly caught the eye of his teammates.

"He's an all-around player," recently acquired striker Kei Kamara said. "It's good. It's really, really good to be a player that your team can rely on. It doesn't matter what position. Even at the end of the game there, you saw him step forward a little bit more. Those are players you want on your team."

Saturday night wasn't the first time Rowe saw minutes on the backline in 2016, though. The 24-year-old, who has amassed 25 goals and 27 assists throughout his career, was deputized as a "false left back" in the second half of a 4-2 defeat to the Los Angeles Galaxy last weekend.

Heaps, an outside back during his own playing days, thought Rowe showed well against head coach Bruce Arena's side, and wanted to get him more touches against the Fire.

"[Assistant Coach] Tommy [Soehn] worked with Kelyn a lot this week on his positioning, because we moved him in that LA game more out of need and a necessity, but we talked a lot about this week building him in," Heaps said. "Saying, ‘Hey, if we can get you a lot of touches here, this might be a good spot for you,’ and I thought Kelyn, he defended well, but I liked his ideas to get forward. I thought he was aggressive. He can be even more aggressive going forward in that position."

"We thought maybe we could get a little bit of a spark with Kelyn attacking down that left side, because Kelyn, left or right doesn’t bother him." - Heaps

Film sessions with New England's coaching staff offered an immersive education for Rowe, and he noted that those around him, especially goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth, were constantly shouting instructions.

"It was a slightly different position, but I had Farrell the first half just chatting the whole time, making sure I’m doing my thing," Rowe said. "I had Je-Vaughn the second half, and always had Bobby in my ear, so I got a lot of direction and it was very easy to get acclimated to it. For me, it was just about playing another game and trying to bring a lot bit of attack into that defense."

As the Revolution defense returns to full health, it's unlikely that Rowe will see more minutes on the backline. However, Heaps, Soehn and company definitely have a new trick up their sleeve that could offer a new approach when trailing or ahead.

Perhaps ambitiously, Revs legend Taylor Twellman suggested before the match that Rowe might have an international future at outside back. Rowe wasn't as quick to welcome that proposition, instead insisting that he just wants to help the team in whatever way he can.

"I just want to play to be honest with you," Rowe said, "so if I'm on the field at right back, left back, right mid, left mid, whatever it may be, I’ll do it and do it to the best of my ability."