When Kelyn Rowe began the offseason, it was with the intention of playing again. A variety of injuries were the main reason he was limited to a career-low 341 minutes of MLS playing time in 2023, and the 32-year-old reasoned that if he could just get fit that he potentially had a few more good years left in him.
While his mind may have been willing, Rowe’s body apparently was not. Despite getting himself fit, Rowe said that as soon as he resumed soccer activities many of the old pains returned. After playing in a sort of pickup match in December, he said he could barely walk. He wasn’t feeling much better a day later.
He called it a “red alert.”
At the same time, the Sounders weren’t exactly begging him to come back. Rowe admitted he had his own concerns about taking up a roster spot that might otherwise go to a younger, or at least less oft-injured, player. He did not want to put his team in the awkward position of holding a spot if he couldn’t remain healthy.
Rowe gave himself several weeks to weigh his options and then finally announced on Friday that he was retiring from professional soccer.
"It’s weird," Rowe told Sounder at Heart. "You never want to stop, but it was time. It’s a weight off your chest. The last few weeks have been tough. I had to make this decision one way or another. My body is already thankful."
Rowe said he had hoped to play until "the wheels came off" and gave some consideration to playing for another team. But the Federal Way native had long considered returning to his hometown team a career objective, and he'd been actively trying to make it happen for several years before finally joining the Sounders in 2021. The appeal of retiring as a Sounder was strong, and he wasn't particularly interested in playing through pain somewhere without that emotional connection.
Even if he is at peace with his decision, he admitted there are complicated emotions. There's relief, but there's also genuine pain.
"I’d like to say it’s mutual, I would have liked to be back but it wasn’t fit for the team," he said. "I have to end it so it sucks. It never feels good when it ends. It hurts at the moment. Even when I wanted to get traded from New England, it hurt. We weren’t part of each other’s lives. Is it amicable? I don’t know. But it’s reality and something we’ll get over."
A good chunk of his newfound free time will go into his other passion: wine. In 2022, he started Vino FC, a sort of wine club where he puts his WSET certification to use by selecting bottles for subscribers and hosting tastings.
"I was hoping it wouldn’t be my job for two more years," said Rowe, who is also still exploring other opportunities. "But I’m finding a lot of joy in it."
Whether his departure was on his terms or not, Rowe is satisfied with what he accomplished while wearing Rave Green. Despite arriving with a very unsettled role in 2021, he ended up playing in every game that year and played more minutes than in any season since 2016, a time when he was starting to get USMNT looks. Rowe played fewer minutes in 2022, but was still one of the first players off the bench. He also experienced what was surely his career highlight, coming in as a reserve after just 11 minutes in the Concacaf Champions League final to help the Sounders become the first MLS team to win the continental title.
A be-goggled Rowe chugging champagne from the CCL trophy while wearing a Bogey Boys faux-fur coat will forever be considered one of the iconic images in Sounders history.
"It was a great time," he said. "I’ll never fulfill all my goals, but I fulfilled many of them. The fact that I was able to retire as a Sounder was something I always wanted. I had a very fulfilling career. I think a lot of people will see that."