For Kelyn Rowe, putting on the Seattle Sounders jersey was a long time coming.
Rowe, 29, grew up just south of Seattle in Federal Way, Wash. He attended perennial college soccer powerhouse UCLA before turning pro in 2012 and spent the majority of his 10-year career with the New England Revolution. He bounced around the last year and a half between Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake and ultimately a return to the Revs, but at long last Rowe signed with his hometown club this past offseason.
“It was a little exhilarating,” Rowe said of his first Sounders match. “I’ve had that moment in my mind for a while and I was able to do it in front of family and friends, and it was good to get that first game with the Sounders and continue to do more.”
Seemingly every year, the transfer rumor mill would start and Rowe’s name would inextricably be linked to the Sounders. There were even a few close calls in the past, but no deal had ever gotten over the finish line.
“It was a burst of excitement,” said Rowe, who has a tattoo of the Seattle skyline on his arm. “It had been building up. There were rumors, and rumors on my end as well. To know that it was finally going to happen was a big weight lifted off my shoulders. It was good to see my family’s reaction as well.”
Rowe’s addition to the Sounders is more than just a feel-good story, though. He’s still a valuable asset, and the Sounders expect him to be a legitimate contributor for this season and beyond. He has 29 goals and 42 assists in nearly 250 regular season MLS matches, as well as four caps for the United States national team.
“[Rowe] comes into the locker room with a big smile and joy that he’s able to be in his hometown playing,” said right wingback Alex Roldan. “He’s been in the league for quite some time and gained some really good experience. He’s a talented player. You can put him in different positions. He reminds me of my brother [Cristian]. You can plug him into a position and he’s going to give you a very good performance and learn quickly. He can adapt. He’s surprisingly very, very quick and can turn up to a different gear.”
Added Rowe: “It’s an easy locker room to get involved with. It’s a bunch of good dudes. When it comes to the game of soccer, I like to think that I’ve played long enough and that I can fit in anywhere.”
Rowe came off the bench in his first two Sounders appearances, but after an injury to Josh Atencio, Rowe earned his first start on May 2 in a convincing 3-0 win over the LA Galaxy. He logged 89 minutes and showcased his quality as a two-way player in midfield next to Cristian Roldan and João Paulo.
“[Rowe is] another great piece to our roster,” said Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer following the win over the Galaxy. “Bringing Kelyn back to his hometown, you see the banners up before the game, [No.] 22, his family is here. He’s excited to be here, and that showed in his play. It was a late scratch with Josh, but you plug Kelyn in there and he did great. He did super.”
There will be plenty of opportunities for Rowe moving forward as well. Captain Nicolás Lodeiro’s status is still uncertain after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, and Cristian Roldan may miss a portion of the summer if he is called in to the U.S. national team for the Concacaf Gold Cup. Being able to play anywhere in the midfield three of Schmetzer’s 3-5-2 formation, as well as being the nominal backup wingback to Alex Roldan, bodes well for receiving a ton of minutes.
“Very similar to the way Cristian has played, throughout my career I’ve played multiple positions,” said Rowe. “If you need me there, I can play there. It’s also just willingness. I fought the versatility probably the first year or two then realized it was probably going to prolong my career. The whole goal of this game for me is to find myself on the field and enjoy it.”
Finding himself on the pitch is also extra special for his friends and family, who after all these years can finally watch Rowe play in person.
“It brings everything full circle for me in my career,” said Rowe. “People who have helped me in my career when I was a youth player, and I’m obviously including my parents and my family, coaches, players I’ve played with. Being able to play in front of them is pretty incredible to show that the work that they’ve put in throughout my career is still intact.”