When I interviewed Kelyn Rowe prior to the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, he all but openly campaigned for the Seattle Sounders to move into a position to select him. The Federal Way native had grown up watching the Sounders in USL, got to see their ascent to MLS first-hand, and had even trained with them when he’d come home from UCLA for the summer. If he were a year younger, he likely would have played in the Sounders Academy instead of Redmond-based Crossfire.
It may have taken nine years to come to fruition, but Rowe was practically beaming on Friday when talking about finally getting to play for his hometown team.
“I’ve wanted to play here a long time,” he said during an video chat with reporters. “It helps that I get to come home and can play for one of the best teams in the league. Not everyone can say that when they go play for their hometown club. I’m excited to impact this club as much as I can.”
Rowe’s path to the Sounders was a circuitous one and comes at an interesting time in his career.
To this day, no Puget Sound product has been selected higher in the MLS SuperDraft than when the New England Revolution made him the No. 3 pick in 2012. For the first five years, Rowe fulfilled every bit of promise that came along with that, averaging 5.4 goals and 7.6 assists per season. Rowe was on the cusp of being a regular with the United States national team and even scored for the 2017 Gold Cup-winning squad.
But things took a turn for the worse in 2018 under Brad Friedel. While Rowe had been asked to move around under previous coaches, Friedel was the first who didn’t seem to have much use for him. Rowe had by far the worst season of his career, setting career lows in goals (1), assists (2) and minutes played (1,611).
Things didn’t get much better after an offseason trade to Sporting KC, who then traded him to Real Salt Lake at midseason. Most expected him to join the Sounders that offseason as a free agent, but the Revolution made a more lucrative offer to have him come back for another run under Bruce Arena.
Rowe didn’t exactly light it up during his season with Arena, but says he felt like it allowed him to sort of restart his career. He now admits that the experience of the last few years was a bit humbling, and you get the sense he knows that this might be his last best chance to revive his career and is ready to do whatever it takes, play wherever he’s needed in order to do it.
As a younger player, Rowe said he longed for a defined role. He comes to Seattle not only embracing his utility role, but also welcoming the idea of needing to fight for minutes and even looks at those times of struggle as being for the best.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a restart, hey it got me here,” Rowe said. “It got me to where I ultimately wanted to be. You have a few bad years, you learn a few things, you kinda get brought back to reality and a little humbled. I think this is just a positive move for me going forward.”
Simply getting to Seattle is obviously not the end goal. After spending much of the last decade hoping this day would come and much of the past five years actively trying to make it happen, Rowe is not looking to put down roots.
“I didn’t want to just have one or two years here and retire, I wanted to have a whole career in Seattle to play in front of family and friends, in front of the people I grew up playing with,” he said. “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just one or two years, that it’s hopefully many more.”
It’s very clearly not just about soccer, either. The region has long held a special place in his heart. Rowe sports a tattoo of the Seattle skyline on his left tricep and he says he was rendered speechless when the Sounders won their first MLS Cup, both because of the pride he felt and the frustration that he wasn’t part of it.
Rowe’s parents and sister still live in the area, too. Rowe is now an uncle three times over and there’s an extra sparkle in his eye when talking about what that means to him.
“If you’ve not been around a child for Christmas, it’s the best thing in the world,” Rowe said. “It makes you believe in everything again and that everything is OK. I always come back on Christmas and spoil them as much as I can. Now, I get to do that on a daily basis now.”
That it comes at this point in his career has an element of kismet. Rowe has played 252 MLS matches in his career. His first appearance for the Sounders will be his 253rd, a number that carries a certain local relevancy. Informed of this, Rowe was taken aback.
“That’s amazing,” he said. “That’s an absolute story, just written in the stars right there. … Wow.”