To call Kelyn Rowe unheralded wouldn’t be fair, considering that the New England Revolution selected him with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft.
But with young goal scorers such as Diego Fagundez and Juan Agudelo carrying the offensive load lately, someone like Rowe can easily become, while not completely forgotten, perhaps temporarily misremembered, as a famous former Red Sox pitcher might put it.
Rowe’s play is making even that difficult. He’s coming off his best statistical game of the season, scoring a goal and adding two assists in Sunday’s 5-0 spanking of the LA Galaxy. Rowe has five assists through 13 MLS games this season, the same amount he had his entire rookie season. That mark is tied for second in the league — one behind Sebastien La Toux of Philadelphia — heading into Saturday night’s home game at Gillette Stadium against last-place D.C. United.
When factoring in last week’s visit to Rochester, N.Y., for a US Open Cup game, Rowe’s production the last two matches stands out: three goals, three assists.
“It’s one of those ‘finally!’ kind of moments for me,” Rowe said. “I’ve had chances this season and they just haven’t gone in, and the team was the same way until this run. We’re finally getting goals now and they’re coming in big-time bunches.”
Quite true. A team that had just six goals in its first 10 MLS games this season has scored nine in the past three — all shutout victories — a net-snapping flurry that isn’t even counting the five-goal burst in Rochester. Add that to the tally, and it’s 14 goals in four games, all since May 18.
Rowe has had a hand in nearly half of those 14, and it’s come mostly in a substitute role. If he keeps performing like this, coach Jay Heaps might have little choice but to increase his minutes.
“Kelyn continues to play himself into the lineup. We’re getting him more minutes, whether it’s off the bench or starting,” Heaps said. “His ability to change the game, whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, is what coaches want.”
Give Heaps partial credit. He noticed Rowe while serving as the Revolution’s radio analyst, and Rowe was playing at UCLA. He and his staff scouted Rowe hard, liked what they saw, and made him their first pick in January 2012. Two months later, Rowe was in the starting lineup.
His rookie year wasn’t eye-popping: 30 games, three goals, five assists. He played mostly on the outside, and Heaps said some tactical changes this season — putting Rowe more inside — have paid off almost immediately.
“He’s built like an outside player — he’s fast, he’s strong — but at the same time, his touch is of an inside player,” Heaps said. “Last year, we definitely played him a lot wider, but I think his awareness inside is really picking up. He’s kind of coming into his own.
“He’s maturing, he’s picking up strengths of where he can play. He’s feeling the game a little bit, and we’re allowing him to express himself, because offensively he’s willing to do any amount of work, and he’s reading the game well now.”
The 21-year-old with the unusual first name (“Mom likes the Ys, she likes to be unique”) has appeared in 12 games this season, starting eight. The only game he missed was because of an injury May 18 at Houston, which started the Revolution’s three-game MLS win streak.
Big performance jumps are frequently made by professional athletes from year one to year two, with the reasons often just as much mental as physical. By purposely slowing things down, Rowe has helped the Revolution turn the offense up.
“Everything’s not 100 miles an hour out there, like it is in college and youth level, where you can just kind of go on your own,” Rowe said. “I’m able to calm and relax myself, and that gives me a little more confidence on the ball, more time, easier passes. That’s how I find my assists and my goals.”
He’s a streaky player, one with the skill that Heaps thinks might be worthy of a spot someday on the US national team. He’s on a hot streak now, and so are the Revolution, looking to extend their win streak to four, and their unbeaten streak to five.
“Our spirits are up right now, but we also know that a team could come in and do what we did to other teams, so we’re definitely focused,” Rowe said. “There’s a lot more pressure on us now because we have this run going. Now we have a target on our backs. We know that, and we like it.”