FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The last time Kelyn Rowe was part of a U.S. National Team camp he was a 20-year-old sophomore at UCLA, trying to fight his way onto the U.S. Under-23 team ahead of the (ultimately disappointing) CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament.
It was during that U-23 camp – which included a pair of scrimmages against the full national team – that Rowe was selected third overall in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft by the New England Revolution.
Now five-and-a-half years and more than 180 professional appearances later, Rowe will finally return to the national team setup as part of the USMNT’s 23-man roster for the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
It’s a just reward for a player who’s proven invaluable during his time in New England.
“It’s going to be a flood of emotions,” Rowe said when asked about pulling on the Stars and Stripes for the first time with the senior squad. “Mostly happy and honored and proud that I get to wear the USA crest once again, and with the full national team this time. It’s going to be a very, very fun time for me.”
Rowe won’t be alone as the Nats convene in Nashville, Tennessee, to begin camp on Sunday; he’ll have Revolution teammate Juan Agudelo alongside him, as the 24-year-old striker looks to build upon an MLS campaign that has seen him register seven goals in 14 appearances.
Although national team call-ups are old hat for Agudelo – he’s racked up 23 caps and appeared in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup – he was beaming after learning of his inclusion on the final roster for this year’s regional tournament.
“I was always refreshing my e-mails, double-checking to see if it was finally there; confirmation of achieving my goal which I set for myself at the beginning of the year,” Agudelo said. “I’m extremely happy.”
Having experienced heartbreak at the hands of bitter rival Mexico in the final of that 2011 Gold Cup, Agudelo is eager to get another crack at regional bragging rights, and Rowe is champing at the bit to be a part of a competition he’s only ever experienced from the comfort of his couch.
“It was the biggest tournament I’ve ever played in my life,” Agudelo said of the Gold Cup. “I’m looking forward to being in that tournament again and hopefully coming out with a championship this time.”
“We’ve watched the games when we’ve been off on the weekends here the past couple years,” Rowe said. “To hopefully see myself playing in those games is beyond words.”
Rowe and Agudelo will join the USMNT on Sunday ahead of a tune-up match against Ghana on July 1 in East Hartford, Connecticut, and the Gold Cup itself runs from July 7-26. The U.S. will face Panama (July 8), Martinique (July 12) and Nicaragua (July 15) before the quarterfinals kick off on July 19 and 20.
The MLS schedule does break during the group stage of the competition, but regardless, the Revolution duo will miss at least two league matches and an Open Cup Round of 16 showdown. That means head coach Jay Heaps will need to rely upon a bit of depth throughout July, but he’s more than willing to work through that situation if it means opportunities on the international stage for his players.
“Juan was sniffing; he’s been right there since January,” Heaps said of Agudelo. “I’m excited that he’s going to get a real chance in a tournament format. And for Kelyn, it’s long overdue. He’s someone who puts in the work and puts in the time.
“Both guys really want this. As a coach, obviously it’s going to hurt us from a depth standpoint, but at the same time, I’m thrilled for the guys.”
It’s safe to say that both Rowe and Agudelo are thrilled, as well, but they both know that as the Gold Cup commences – and particularly with more crucial World Cup qualifiers coming up in September – the work is just beginning.
“I don’t think my work’s ever going to stop,” said Rowe. “This is the Gold Cup, and [USMNT head coach Bruce Arena] is bringing in a lot of new guys, so I have to show myself. After this I’m hoping that maybe I get a sniff at (other) camps, so I’ve got to show myself here.
“I think the work that I’ve put in has definitely gotten me to this point, and I have to keep going.”