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Kelyn Rowe proves you can always come home

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Prior to the 2021 season, the Seattle Sounders signed Kelyn Rowe to a one-year deal worth about half what he had made the previous season. At 29, it seemed like the move was, at worst, a last round for Rowe with a chance to finally play in front of his family and friends. Best case scenario, well, Kelyn Rowe would have a chance to become indispensable to Brian Schmetzer on one of the best teams in the league and maybe pick up a trophy or two. Some 18 months later, Rowe is playing the best football of his career, having played all but one game possible and lifting his first professional trophy when the Sounders became the first MLS team to win the CONCACAF Champions League.

Rowe, who joined the New England Revolution as a top prospect from UCLA in 2012, had become something of an journeyman after leaving his first professional club after the 2018 season. He spent time with Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake. , playing first-team and second-team games in both organizations, before finally returning to New England for the 2020 season. Rowe had struggled at times over the past few seasons to find a consistent spot on the field, having suffered a couple from injuries and slipping up a bit in terms of offensive production after initially entering the league as a creative attacking midfielder. In Seattle, however, he put all that behind him.

While Rowe is far from a perfect player, and some might argue he’s not even in the Sounders’ ideal starting XI, his place as the 12th man is indisputable. Since he joined 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 didn’t appear in was a 2-0 loss just days after playing a key role in the home win over Pumas UNAM in the final of the CCL when he replaced Nouhou due to injury 11 minutes into the game. However, Rowe is not receiving a review simply for participating. In his 59 appearances in all competitions, he may not have necessarily pushed the team’s ceiling any higher, but he has absolutely lifted the floor.

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In the three seasons prior to his return home, Rowe had average Fotmob ratings of 6.54 (2018), 6.24 (2019), and 6.43 (2020). Then in 2021 he jumped to a 6.92 average in his MLS appearances and set a career high for appearances, and raised his performance to a 7.0 average rating in all competitions in 2022. He accomplished this while playing all over the field, with more than a third of his minutes as a left back or left back. Considering the quality and importance of fullbacks in the Sounders’ system, it’s impressive and significant that Rowe has become Alex Roldan’s primary backup at right back, putting himself in contention for the first-choice left-back spot while reliably taking turns through midfield.

It’s not just that he’s soaked up minutes or had a good at-bat, though. In the league, Rowe leads the team with 1.8 successful dribbles per 90 minutes, is tied three-way for second with 1.2 successful tackles/90 and is in the top 6 in interceptions/90, clearances/90 , Fotmob overall rating. Not too much has been found on the scoresheet this season – his two secondary assists against Vancouver were his first goals in league play along with an assist in the Open Cup and a goal against Motagua in CCL – but his passing has still helped consistently. to create dangerous moments and attacking opportunities. According to FBRef, in MLS Rowe has the 5th most progressive pass/90 for the Sounders, the 7th most complete cross to the 18 yard box/90 and the 8th most complete pass to the final third/90. Those numbers are consistently at least double Nouhou’s numbers, providing a much more balanced and complementary piece to Alex Roldan on the other side of the LB spot when the Sounders are in possession.

All of this is to say that Rowe has been much more than a feel-good story in Seattle. He is ours and we are his, and coming home seems to have allowed him to unlock the best version of himself on the pitch. More than that though, he could be the player that unlocks the best of Seattle as well.

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