Kicking it around with the Revolution’s Kelyn Rowe
(An occasional series in which the Globe commutes to work with a Boston athlete)
Revolution midfielder Kelyn Rowe takes a sip of black coffee from a stainless steel container and navigates out of a South End alley shortly before 8 a.m., bound for Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
He wears fashionably ripped shorts and an untucked blue short-sleeve shirt. On his wristband is the motto of a 12-year-old girl who battled cancer, and it’s also his philosophy of life.
“Never Ever Give Up,” it reads.
Rowe, 25, has been named the Revolution’s Humanitarian of the Year three years running (2014-16), and last year he was voted team MVP by the fans.
Coach Jay Heaps says Rowe reminds him of two things: a Swiss Army knife, because he can play just about any position, and a Labrador Retriever, forever chasing a ball.
“He just runs and runs and runs,” says Heaps.
Rowe recently was named to the US men’s national team 23-man roster for the first time. He played all three games in group play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup but then was left off the roster for the knock-out portion. He had a goal and an assist.
Q. What’s it like being a newcomer for the United States men’s national team for the Gold Cup?
A. It’s just the best feeling you can feel. Honestly, I just have mixed emotions of excitement and a dream come true.
Q. When is the US going to win a World Cup?
A. I think we have years to go, unfortunately.
Q. In your playing lifetime?
A. My playing lifetime would be a stretch, maybe. Probably towards the end of my career. I think what [US coach] Bruce Arena is doing now is great. He’s going back to the system that has worked. He’s bringing in younger guys to develop them early. So hopefully in my playing time — in eight, nine more years — knock on wood. I hope for 10 more years, so we’ll see.
Q. When you walk around the South End, do you get recognized?
A. No, not a bit. Not in Boston, which is kind of nice, ’cause you can kind of walk around. I don’t have to look presentable all the time. I can go and not get scrutinized for having a glass of wine for dinner. It’s great. No one is in your face the whole time. You can kind of be yourself and no one is snapping a photo of you.
Q. What about Boston drivers?
A. They’re very aggressive. Driving in the city, oh, I hate it, especially in the South End. It’s a tight little area with people double parking. Not caring. It’s the honking the moment the light turns green. It’s, like, all right man, I’m trying to drink my coffee.
Q. Let’s talk about the humanitarian work you do with the Jessie Rees Foundation, encouraging kids with cancer by visiting them in hospitals and hosting them at games. How did “Kelyn’s NEGU [Never Ever Give Up] Crew” start?
A. The first kid was David, a Brazilian kid, 10 or 11, who loved soccer. He was stuck in the hospital with his little brother, who was more terminally ill than he was. So he was going through a hard time. His parents were stressed.
I took it upon myself to say, “Let’s get this kid the biggest event we can because he deserves it. Let’s not just get him tickets to the game, let’s get him the full experience because he might not be able to do it again.”
So we started this game-day event, which is really cool where the kids get to go down right in front of the field for warm-ups. They get to see my teammates and give them high-fives, they get recognized as honorees. They get to sit in a box with their family and bring as many people as can fit. They kind of let loose for the game.
Then after the game, they get to walk the field with me, which is the coolest part because all the fans start clapping for them. And they get this sense of support, which I’ve learned every kid wants and every kid needs, especially in those scenarios when they’re in the hospital for some time and they’re kind of down on themselves.
You could see smiles on their faces, and his mother teared up when fans were clapping and cheering his name. It was chilling.
Q. [As we drive past the former home of the Globe in Dorchester.] Should we put the new stadium right here?
A. That would be very nice; it would be really easy to get to, 93, nice and easy, quick. I think having a stadium in Boston would be best for not only the club but also the fans. It would be a more intimate area. They do well making it just the lower bowl [at Gillette Stadium], but it’s hard to fill out a 70,000-seat stadium. It could be louder. It could be more intimate. It could be a lot of things.
Q. Do you get energy off the crowd?
A. You do. Oh yeah. Imagine a small bowl and you hear this big unanimous roar; it would just push you forward.
Q. What about the artificial turf at Gillette Stadium? Do you like it?
A. I grew up playing on it, so it’s OK to me. In Washington [state], it rains a ton, so grass gets beat up so easily it’s hard to play on anything else. But do I like grass better? Yes, because it’s easier on your body and the ball moves pretty well.
Q. Whom have you run into at Gillette, football-wise?
A. Just about everyone. We cross paths [with the Patriots] when they are in season just about every morning. We were walking out to practice once and we see [Rob] Gronkowski kind of jog by us. He’s a gigantic human, especially for me, who is 5-8.
So he’s kind of jogging by us pretty slow and then all of a sudden we feel this other guy jogging past us. It’s Tom Brady, buzzing by. All of a sudden, he’s running up to Gronkowski and kind of jumps into him, gives him a big shoulder budge, and you can see Gronkowski go over and Tom Brady just smiles and says, “Come on, bitch.”
I had a bunch of New England guys with me and they said, “That was probably the coolest moment of my life. That was really cool.”
Q. When I see “United Health Care” on the front of your uniforms, I think of being on hold on the telephone. Why can’t your uniforms just say “Revs” or “Revolution” big on the front?
A. They must have bumped up their sponsorship. It’s funny, we go on the road, they ask, “What is UHC?” I say, “We’re here for a conference.”
Q. Does your versatility playing different positions cut into your potential for stardom?
A. I’ve actually had this conversation with the coaching staff and management. I’m all for being a soldier if it means I’m playing, because that’s what I’m here to do. I’m here to play.
But, yeah, we had the discussion; we had it about the All-Star team. If I’m getting half the votes for defender and the other half for midfielder, I’m only getting half the votes. So it’s not fair.
It’s frustrating, yes, but a soldier will be a soldier.
Q. You played almost every position last year?
A. Except for goalie and center back, and I think I’ve done the same this year.
Q. Where do you like to play?
A. I want to play center midfield, whether it is forward or back. It doesn’t matter. I like being in the center. Even if you don’t have the ball, you’re kind of directing everyone. You’re the guy. I like to be the guy.
Q. If you had to choose between team MVP or Humanitarian of the Year, which means more to you?
A. I think the humanitarian probably means the most, because for me it means I’m making a difference off the field as well as on. As far as everything I will do in this career, I will be remembered for a lot more than just my soccer, and that’s very cool.
Q. The Revs are 0-5 in the MLS finals, and you’re living in a town with spoiled fans that have watched 10 duck boat parades this century. How does that feel?
A. I can’t tell you how my heart just dropped when we lost that 2014 final. It was so disappointing because we had a good team. But yeah, I tell you what, it’s a lot of pressure. If we want to be recognized as a Boston sport, we’ve got to win a freakin’ title.
Q. I hear you like to cook. What’s your go-to dish?
A. I’m trying to perfect steak tacos. So I make my own marinade. So I’ve got cumin, chili pepper, I’ve got some oregano, I puree some kiwi, oh yeah, garlic, lime, cilantro. Then I kind of marinate that. Then I grill it.
Q. Are you a Newbury Street shopper?
A. I am a Newbury Street shopper just because I like walking Newbury.
I’ll go to a bunch of stores on Newbury Street. I’ll try to up my fashion there. I try to get classier and classier but I’m not sure it actually works. Sometimes I want to wear a suit because I look good in a suit. I’m decently simple. Jeans and a T-shirt for me are great. If I want to get flashy, sometimes it’s over the top and it’s fun. Sometimes you’ve got to have fun.
Q. You’ve seen Stuart Singer, the sports psychology performance coach. How does that go? Do you lie down and say, “The ball’s not going in the net?”
A. When I first went in, I was kind of expecting there was going to be a [expletive] couch there and I thought I’d have to lay down on this couch and feel like an idiot. But no, it’s just him and me in his office having a conversation.
I called him about a week ago because I was getting anxious [about making the national team]. I was getting worried that every play that I had was going to be judged. And it might be, but I can’t think that way. If I think that way, I’m not going to play my best.
So he was talking about what is my best self. It’s when I’m having fun. When I’m relaxed. If I’m doing those things well, I’m going to have a great game.
Q. Does the net look bigger sometimes than other times?
A. It doesn’t look bigger, but man it sounds good sometimes. When you feel it off your foot and you just hear that sound of that tshhhuuuuuuuu. Oh, it’s great.
Q. You’re good at shooting from far out.
A. I like my shots from a distance. That’s one of my go-to’s.
Q. What about spin?
A. I don’t put too much curve on the ball. In fact, the guys give me a hard time at practice. I hit a knuckleball most of the time. It’s great, it’s like the Mighty Ducks. They say, “Kelyn hit the knuckle puck.”
Q. What about your name? It’s like a typo.
A. Tell my mom that. She’s all about something different. My sisters’ names are Bree and Bailey. My mom and dad are both football fans and there was a football player Kellen Winslow.
Q. Different spelling, though.
A. Different spelling. Because she wanted her difference.
Q. I feel like we disrespect soccer in a lot of ways. Very few people overall know who you are, and you’re the Revolution’s MVP.
A. Do I feel disrespected? Not at all. It’s because soccer is not a big deal in Boston yet. As much as I am in the community, people would rather see an Edelman, a Brady, a Papi, that type of thing. They don’t want to see me yet. Yet. They will.
Q. How are you going to change that?
A. By, No. 1, being on the national team and getting the world to recognize me, and, honestly, a stadium in Boston.
Q. Most professional athletes have big SUVs. You don’t. What kind of car is this?
A. Ford Fusion Hybrid. Saving the world, one drive at a time.