Great expectations

Rookie Kelyn Rowe welcomes the pressure of living up to the hype

The following story was published in the Revolution’s “Match Day” program for the August 29 game against Chivas USA

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – For MLS rookies, there’s perhaps no word more loaded than “expectations.”

It’s a promise for the future, as of yet unfulfilled. It’s a hint of what’s to come. And it’s packed with pressure.

Expectations are greatest for those rookies who’ve excelled at the college and youth international levels, standing out even amongst the best of the best. They’re greater still for those deemed worthy of a top-five pick in the MLS SuperDraft, an honor bestowed only upon players who are expected to be difference makers.

Kelyn Rowe checks all the boxes.

The 20-year-old playmaker was drafted third overall by the New England Revolution in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft after a standout two-year career at UCLA. It was the highest draft pick the Revs had made since selecting a guy named Taylor Twellman with the second overall pick in 2002. That one seemed to work out just fine.

Rowe understands the weight of expectations he carries as a top draft pick, lauded as a potential star by both coaches and media members. But rather than shy away from the pressure, Rowe confidently steps into the spotlight and thrives, feeding upon the energy it provides.

“I love the pressure,” said Rowe. “I don’t know why. I strive for it. It feels good. Especially when I meet those expectations, I make higher ones.”

Perhaps that’s why Rowe’s expectations were so high after a remarkable preseason in which the young midfielder burst onto the scene with team-leading marks in goals (4) and assists (4) in just six appearances. If they weren’t already, all eyes were now on Kelyn Rowe.

At times during the regular season, Rowe has continued to live up to those expectations. As of mid-August the rookie ranked in the top five on the Revolution in goals (2) and assists (3) while appearing in all but four of the club’s games. But as is the case for any young player – especially one who’s played significant minutes since day one – Rowe’s rookie season has featured both ups and downs.

“There are always going to be ups and downs in a season,” Rowe admitted. “Coming in (and learning) on the fly like that is definitely going to create more and you’ve seen them. I started off great in preseason. I’ve never had a preseason like that before. I ended up scoring some goals, getting some assists and the team did really well.

“Then I didn’t score for awhile, I didn’t get an assist for awhile. Finally I came back in LA (and scored), and then again you saw maybe a little bit of a drop. Then at home against Chicago I got back into another up and I’m trying to keep that up as long as possible. But there are always ups and downs as a player. How you get through those downs is what makes you a pro.”

If Rowe speaks with the wisdom of a much older player, it’s because he’s constantly learning from those around him. He credits the guidance of head coach Jay Heaps and his teammates for aiding his quick transition to the professional game, specifically noting the influence of former captain Shalrie Joseph, Matt Reis, Benny Feilhaber, Lee Nguyen and Clyde Simms. Rowe said Heaps has periodic chats about his development, while his veteran teammates are constantly “chirping in [his] ear” about what he’s doing well and how he can improve.

But Rowe also learned from other younger players around the league, including the Columbus Crew’s Dilly Duka, LA Galaxy’s Michael Stephens and Chicago Fire’s Sean Johnson, some of whom were his teammates during a January training camp with the U.S. Under-23 National Team.

“All those guys have been in the league for a little while, so I learned from them,” said Rowe. “They told me, ‘When you go in as a rookie, you’re going to have to really work hard, you’re going to have to get stuck in and some things aren’t going to go your way, but you’ve got to get through it.’ That helped me a lot going into the first part of the season.”

During that January camp at The Home Depot Center, Rowe also had the chance to meet up with Feilhaber, who was in camp with the full U.S. National Team. Endless comparisons have likened Rowe to Feilhaber, from playing style all the way down to the fact that both spent two years at UCLA. For Rowe, playing alongside someone he admires and strives to emulate has been an invaluable experience.

“I remember watching him play in the Olympics (in 2008) and he was my favorite player in the Olympics,” Rowe said of Feilhaber. “Being able to play with him now is a great honor. Benny and I actually play a lot alike. We’re very technical, we love to go forward and we love to beat a player or two.”

Rowe continues to learn from teammates like Feilhaber on a daily basis as he molds and shapes his game at the professional level, and he’s already established himself as a steady contributor in New England. But Rowe knows this is just the beginning. He’s only just gotten his feet wet.

He’s only just begun to live up to the expectations.

“I’ve gotten my feet wet, but I haven’t ducked all the way in yet,” said Rowe. “I’m just sticking a toe in right now and I’m hoping to really dive in next year, or toward the end of this year.”