Kelyn Rowe didn’t join the Seattle Sounders for a feel-good story.
Born and raised in Federal Way, Rowe was often linked with a move to his hometown club throughout his glittering career in MLS with the New England Revolution. When he finally joined the Sounders ahead of the 2021 season, he didn’t mince words about his ambitions with the Rave Green.
“I knew the day that I became a pro, at one point I wanted to play in Seattle,” Rowe told SoundersFC.com back in January. “As things moved along in my career, I wanted to make sure I didn’t just retire in Seattle. I wanted to have a career here first. That starts with playing multiple years here, and I hope that continues.”
Rowe has lived up to those standards all year, appearing in every single MLS match. And on Saturday, he put in arguably his best performance to date, supplying three assists in a 4-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Rowe, who has spent most of the season in midfield, lined up at right wingback while Alex Roldan is away with El Salvador for World Cup Qualifying. He bombed up and down the right flank all evening with his usual blend of quality service, clever skill and crunching tackles.
“Kelyn is a great connector, whether he’s in the middle or out wide,” Will Bruin said during his post-match press conference. “In the system that we play, our wingbacks are very important in our attack, whether that’s starting the attack or finishing it on the back side. It was great to see Kelyn get three assists – I’m sure he was very happy about that.”
Whenever he’s asked his preferred position, Rowe provides a simple answer: on the field. It’s that team-first mentality and willingness to compete that has made him such a critical component of a Seattle Sounders team that sits first in the West despite facing unprecedented adversity this season.
“We encourage, and it’s important and vital, that our wingbacks get higher up the field,” Head Coach Brian Schmetzer said after the match. “Tonight Kelyn had a really, really good game. Not just the first assist to Shane [O'Neill] – Shane’s header was a great header – but I thought Kelyn was really, really good.”
Rowe’s performance in front of his hometown crowd was a just reward for his fantastic first year with the Sounders. With six matches remaining in the season, the versatile veteran sits third in the team in key passes (25), third in interceptions (32), fifth in tackles won (22), second in successful dribbles (24) and second in successful pressures (117).
With the 2021 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs just around the corner, it’s important for the team to have flexibility in roster decisions and tactical setups. Saturday’s match showcased an added wrinkle for Schmetzer and his coaching staff, with Rowe and attacking midfielder Nicolas Benezet showing signs of a burgeoning partnership down the right.
“The expectation is when a player comes and plays more in the middle of the field in the pocket that the wingback is the one that goes forward," said Schmetzer. "I think you saw that being executed tonight very, very well. So, kudos to Nico and kudos to Kelyn because he had a tremendous performance.”
Rowe and the Sounders will return to action on Saturday as they visit the Houston Dynamo (5:30 p.m. PT; FOX 13+, Prime Video, El Rey 1360AM) at PNC Stadium in the second and final meeting of the season between the two sides.