SOCCER

Kelyn Rowe proves you can still come home

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Ahead of the 2021 season, the Seattle Sounders signed Kelyn Rowe to a one-year contract on a contract worth about half of what he had done the previous season. At 29, it looked like the move was, at worst, one last ride for Rowe with the chance to finally play in front of his family and friends. At best, well, Kelyn Rowe would have the opportunity to make himself indispensable to Brian Schmetzer on one of the league’s top teams and maybe lift a trophy or two. Some 18 months later, Rowe is playing some of the best football of his career, playing every game but one possible and winning his first professional trophy as the Sounders became the first MLS side to win the Champions League. CONCACAF.

Rowe, who joined the New England Revolution as a prospect from UCLA in 2012, had become something of a journeyman after leaving his first professional club after the 2018 season. He spent time with Sporting Kansas City and the Real Salt Lake, playing games with the first and second teams of both organizations, before eventually returning to New England for the 2020 season. Rowe had struggled at times in recent seasons to find a consistent spot on the pitch, after picking up a few injuries and dropping off a bit in terms of attacking output after initially entering the league as a creative attacking midfielder. In Seattle, however, he put all that behind him.

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While Rowe is far from a perfect player, and some might say he’s not even in the Sounders’ ideal starting XI, his place as the 12th man is indisputable. Since joining Seattle, Rowe’s greatest quality, perhaps his superpower, has been his availability. In 2021 he appeared in every game the Sounders played, and in 2022 the only game he did not appear in was the 2-0 loss just days after playing a key role in the victory at home against Pumas UNAM in the CCL final when he replaced Nouhou through injury after just 11 minutes. However, Rowe does not receive an item for his mere participation. In his 59 appearances in all competitions, he may not have necessarily pushed the team ceiling higher, but he absolutely lifted the ground.

In the three seasons before returning home, Rowe had average Fotmob ratings of 6.54 (2018), 6.24 (2019), and 6.43 (2020). Then in 2021, he jumped to an average of 6.92 in his MLS appearances while setting a career high for appearances, and lifted his performance to an average rating of 7.0 in all competitions in 2022. He achieved this while playing all over the pitch, with more than a third of his minutes either as left-back or left-back. Given the quality and importance of full-backs in the Sounders system, it is impressive and significant that Rowe has made himself the main replacement for Alex Roldan at right-back, and put himself in contention for the position. first-choice left-back while making changes reliably throughout the season. Midfielder.

It’s not just that he soaked up minutes or put in a good shift, though. In the league, Rowe leads the team with 1.8 successful dribbles per 90 minutes, is tied at three for second place with 1.2 successful tackles/90, and is in the top 6 in steals/90, clearances/ 90, overall Fotmob rating. He hasn’t found himself on the scoresheet too much this season – his two secondary assists against Vancouver were his first league goals to accompany an assist in the Open Cup and a goal against Motagua in the CCL – but his passing has still helped create dangerous moments and offensive opportunities. According to FBRef, in MLS, Rowe has the fifth-most progressive pass/90 for the Sounders, the seventh-most successful cross from the 18-yard box/90 and the eighth-most successful pass from the final third/90. Those numbers are consistently at least double Nouhou’s numbers, providing a much more balanced and complementary piece for Alex Roldan on the other side of the LB spot when the Sounders are in possession.

All that to say, Rowe has been more than a feel-good story in Seattle. He’s ours, and we’re his, and coming home seems like he’s unlocked the best version of himself on the pitch. More than that, though, he just might be the player who unlocks Seattle’s best as well.

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