ROWE AIMING FOR U-20 ROSTER SPOT
As US U-20 head coach Thomas Rongen begins to put the finishing touches on his team, one of the players who has come on late in the cycle to contend for a coveted roster spot is UCLA midfielder Kelyn Rowe.
Rowe, 19, is coming off a freshman year at UCLA where he notched seven goals and ten assists to become the PAC-10 freshman of the year while helping the team advance to the NCAA quarterfinals.
The impressive freshman season saw Rowe earn his first invitation to the U-20 national team in December where his strong debut has led to another invitation in January.
"It's nice," Rowe told YA on his U-20 call-ups. "Thomas recognized me through my college season and I had a good one. He brought me in and luckily he's helped me come through and stay on the team so far. Near the end of my college season toward the playoffs, my coaches were talking to me and saying to keep it up because the national team is noticing you and you deserve it."
While Rowe's play at UCLA opened the door to the U-20 team, his play since joining the team has put him into position to be a part of the team moving forward. In his first game in December, Rowe assisted Josh Gatt for a goal in the team's 5-0 win in a friendly over Canada.
In this current camp, Rowe has been one of the best offensive players and he played a major part in the opening goal in Sunday's intra-squad scrimmage. On the play, he unleashed a powerful shot that an outstretched keeper Cody Cropper could hold onto which allowed Conor Doyle to tap in the rebound.
In a slightly less formal intra-squad scrimmage on Friday, Rowe scored a goal when he headed home a Zarek Valentin cross from close range.
"I think I am clicking well," Rowe said of fitting in with the team. "I was playing underneath Conor Doyle and Omar Salgado in the second half. It's really nice because we work around each other very well. Amobi Okugo was behind me. We've really started to click. We've only been playing together for about two or three weeks so it's hard to actually get a connection but it has been good."
As an offensive and creative player, Rowe has enjoyed playing under the attack-minded Rongen who plays a different style than the one Rowe is used to at UCLA but it is also a style that he feels plays to his strengths as a player.
"It's a little different," Rowe compared. "Here we play with a 4-3-3 but at UCLA we play a 4-4-2. But [Rongen] puts me in a great position and he's a great coach. I think very highly of him. The position he puts me in as an attacking center mid is very good. He's helped me through that. He has that Ajax style."
Rowe has played well in his first two camps with the U-20s but competition will be fierce to make a roster spot for qualifying because the team is shaping up to be the deepest US youth team ever in the midfield and forward position.
Rongen has thus far used Rowe in the central part of the midfield in an attacking position. By playing there, Rowe will have to compete for a roster spot with Bayern Munich's Fabian Hurzeler, West Ham's Sebastian Lletget, Notre Dame's Dillon Powers, Tigres' Moises Orozco, and Dinamo Zagreb's Alex Molano.
Despite the unusually high level of competition, Rowe is confident he brings strengths that can help the team succeed. He also is aware of what he needs to work on to take his game to the next level and he feels he is not far away from rounding out all aspects of his skill-set.
"My strengths are playing the ball, having some vision, and I work very hard," the Federal Way, Washington native assessed. "I am proud of that and that I find little spots where I'm behind a defender's back so that I can turn and play. Running at the back four is another good thing for me."
"The things I need to work on to go pro are that I need better fitness so I can work harder," he continued. "I lose the ball a little too much here and there toward the end of the game but that can be fixed as well."
Rowe's inclusion into the US U-20 team relatively late in the cycle has brought about questions of his future and how long he will stay at UCLA before turning professional.
In December, Akron's Perry Kitchen and Zarek Valentin signed Generation Adidas contracts with MLS thereby leaving Rowe, Powers, and Duke University central defender Sebastien Ibeagha as the three primary college players seriously in contention for a U-20 roster spot at this point in the cycle.
Rongen has made no secret that he wants as many players as possible on the U-20 team to be in professional environments and Rowe was no exception.
"In my opinion he should have been [Generation Adidas] this year" Rongen said bluntly of Rowe prior to Sunday's scrimmage.
As of now, however, Rowe's decision to remain in college has not hurt his chances of making the team. However, once the spring hits and MLS along with the European teams are back in season the situation could be different as most of the U-20 players will be training daily in a pro environment.
"It's nice to know that I can somewhat hang with the pros by playing along side of them and with them and still hold my own," Rowe discussed of the differences.
Rowe makes no secret of his desire to eventually turn professional and whether that be this summer, next year, or even at some point in the future, he will wait for the right situation whether it be in MLS or Europe.
"I am keeping my options open," Rowe said in conclusion of the timing to turn professional. "I am not really sure what is going to happen but we'll see. When the decision is made I am not sure where it will be. I want to go to Europe, of course. It's every player's dream to go overseas but if something comes up in MLS then we'll see."