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How Does Kelyn Rowe Fit with Sporting KC?

The recently acquired Rowe can play lots of different positions.

MLS: Philadelphia Union at New England Revolution Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Kelyn Rowe had a rough season in 2018 for the New England Revolution. Statistically, as I pointed out in my 11 point rant about why trading Diego Rubio for him was a bad move, he had one of the worst years of his professional life. Rowe hit career lows in minutes, starts, goals and assists.

Kelyn Rowe Career Stats

2018 New England Revolution 27 18 1 1611 2 35 8 46 2 6 0
2017 New England Revolution 23 21 1 1897 7 34 10 31 3 3 0
2016 New England Revolution 33 32 5 2787 7 64 25 43 6 2 0
2015 New England Revolution 33 21 7 1924 6 51 24 38 4 1 0
2014 New England Revolution 27 21 5 1960 5 59 15 19 3 3 0
2013 New England Revolution 33 26 7 2528 8 74 21 27 3 4 0
2012 New England Revolution 30 21 3 1897 5 43 20 20 5 1 0
Career Totals - 206 160 29 14604 40 360 123 224 26 20 0

Despite not being a fan of the trade, it has happened and it’s time to turn the corner and figure out how Kelyn Rowe fits into Sporting Kansas City. Let’s take a look at a few positions and see what makes the most sense.

First, Where Can he Play?

In typical Peter Vermes fashion, Rowe is a jack-of-all-trades. He’ll fall right into that Jimmy Medranda, Graham Zusi, et al. who can play in numerous positions on the pitch. If we look at Transfermarkt to see where he’s lined up, it’s wild. He literally has lined up everywhere except center back or goalkeeper. Not even Graham Zusi, who’s basically done all the same positions minus left back, can claim that. We’ll use this lovely graphic to drive home our point.

Left Back

Despite his ability to play left back, he’s actually predominantly right-footed. Most of his appearances at left back have come over the last two seasons, some of his worst years as a professional. In an interview with Tom Bogert, Rowe said he spoke with Vermes about positions and he said, “I’m happy he didn’t say No. 2 or No. 3!” Number two is right back and number three is left back, traditionally speaking. So if Vermes doesn’t see him there and Rowe doesn’t like playing there, I’d say that’s an emergency only option.


The majority of Kelyn Rowe’s career has seen him lineup at either winger (both left and right) or wide midfielder. Sporting KC don’t really play with wide midfielders. Players that would typically fill that role end up in winger spots in the 4-3-3 system or as fullbacks pushing forward.

As for Vermes, he sees his ability to play the wing saying, “he can play both inner midfield position and wide as a 7 or 11.” Though just because he can doesn’t mean he should. I could see him being depth on the wing but he’s firmly behind 2018 SKC Golden Boot winner Daniel Salloi and Scottish winger Johnny Russell. It’s also likely he’s behind Gerso Fernandes at winger as well and potentially even Croizet, though I suspect he’d be ahead of Yohan.


Which brings us to the midfield. To be fair, I didn’t finish the quote from Vermes above.

“...but I think [Rowe’s] best place is in the middle of the park.”

Rowe sees himself as a midfielder too. “I’ll play anywhere, but my favorite position is in the middle at the No. 10 or No. 8,” said Rowe. “I’m really happy that [Vermes] sees me there and I can’t wait to prove that I belong there. I’m excited to push and play in that midfield spot, to bring those numbers back up. I’m a goalscoring midfielder, an assisting midfielder. I haven’t had that in the last two years, I can’t wait to get back into that form and confidence.”

Statistically, Rowe has scored and assisted at basically the same rate that he has in the midfield. But Vermes and he definitely see himself as a midfielder. The question for me is, are there any more minutes in the midfield?

First, let me put to bed the CONCACAF Champions League squad rotation talk. While it’s entirely possible that will be a thing, there are a lot of questions for SKC heading into CCL and it’s no small task to advance. It could be two early games and done for SKC, so let’s shelve that debate until Sporting advance.

Second, Rowe definitely isn’t starting over Roger Espinoza or Felipe Gutierrez, at least not on a regular basis. It’s debatable if he’s ahead of Yohan Croizet on the midfield depth chart. Today, I’d say no. Croizet struggled mightily through portions of 2018 but he really found his way as the season went on. I see Croizet as Roger’s primary backup as they are both bulldogs out in the midfield.

I actually see Rowe as Gutierrez’s backup. He seems far more creative and goal dangerous, which is definitely the role Felipe plays. But there's the rub. Gianluca Busio is right there waiting for those minutes. He made his MLS and professional debuts in 2018, but he only had seven appearances, one start and just 153 minutes. In that limited time he scored a goal and added a world class assist.

I want to see more of that in 2019 and beyond.

Long Term versus Short Term

I think the real story for Rowe is not in 2019, but in his overall long-term potential contributions. He is someone Vermes has coveted for a long time.

“He is someone I have known for a long time,” said Vermes. “I followed him in college and we were interested in him when he came out in the draft. Over the last several years we have tried at times to get him but were unsuccessful.”

I think that is telling. He’s tried multiple times to get Kelyn Rowe and have been unsuccessful.

Espinoza is 32-years-old (Rowe is just 27). He signed a two year extension during 2018, but he likely cannot maintain the pace he’s put up in recent years. He had a career high 32 starts for a career high 2,825 minutes in 2018 during the regular season. In the prior two years he started 30 games each.

Also, Gutierrez likely isn’t long for MLS. While Gutierrez is just 28-years-old, when he was healthy his talent really showed through last year. He was often the best player on the field. I suspect he’ll get offers from abroad and want to cash in on a final big contract in the next couple of years. He is under contract through 2020 with an option for 2021, but I won’t be surprised if he moves on before that deal ends.

Rowe may only be under contract through 2019, but I think if Vermes likes him so much and he shows that potential during training camp, preseason and onto the regular season, he’ll sign an extension and be around for a while.

So in 2019 he may fill that jack-of-all-trades role a little bit, but long term his home appears to be in the midfield. Though I’m still unhappy with the trade, we push on towards 2019 knowing Vermes got one of his guys and we will keep saying until it’s proven otherwise, In Peter We Trust.