CARSON -- The best attacking midfielder available in Thursday's MLS SuperDraft might be Kelyn Rowe, a UCLA sophomore expected to go early in the first round.
He's deadly with the ball at his feet, the kind of player who can destroy opposing defenses on the dribble, with the pass or with spectacular goals.
Rowe, 20, from Federal Way, Wash., would have been one of the best players available a year ago, and he might have been -- turning pro certainly was in his thoughts following an All-America campaign his freshman year in Westwood. Instead he stuck around for another term, one that wasn't quite so glorious, and grew in ways that will enhance his game at the next level.
“It was a tough decision for me [to return for my sophomore year], but I think I'd make the same decision,” Rowe said Wednesday at Home Depot Center, where he's training with the U.S. under-23 national team. “You know, I could learn more [from one more year] in college. And I promised my parents I'd go back for a full year of school. ... I had some stuff to learn before I went pro.”
The lessons came fast and hard, as Rowe started the season slowly, struggling to acclimate to UCLA coach Jorge Salcedo's revamped system and with tendonitis in his right knee, then lost his starting job. It dawned on him things weren't quite as he thought.
“It was a tough year,” Rowe he concedes, “but I was able to play a different role. Instead of always going forward, I was able to keep the ball a little more. I learned that aspect. I also learned to come off the bench, which is something that I might have to do come pro time.
“It was definitely a good year for maturing. I saw a lot of stuff I hadn't seen before. I saw a lot of adversity that I had to overcome, and I think it was good for me.”
Rowe, who trained last May with his hometown Seattle Sounders, found his game during the season and was pivotal in the Bruins unbeaten run through their Pacific 12 Conference schedule and into the NCAA final four. He hit double digits in assists for the second straight year, won the Pac-12 player-of-the-year award and was a second-team All-West Region selection.
To get there, he told Major League Soccer's website last week, he needed a little kick in the behind. It came courtesy of fellow UCLA sophomore Reed Williams (Newport Beach/Corona del Mar HS), his roommate and a starting striker for the Bruins.
Rowe asked Williams to be honest with him: Was he playing well? Was he the same player he had been a year before?
“ 'You're not as good as you were' is what he told me,” Rowe said. “Then I sat down with the coaches, and they didn’t want to tell me. … I had to work hard and create and better my game.”
The problem, he said, was he had become “very conceited and thought I was better than all these guys.” A dose of humility did wonders, but the fact remains: He is better than most any group of guys.
“My ability to go forward and my work ethic, those are definitely part of my good things,” he said. “When I get the ball to my feet, I'm definitely a dangerous player going forward and keeping the ball.”
So dangerous that there was interest in Rowe a year ago in Germany and France, and he considered opportunities in Germany and Sweden before signing a Generation adidas contract last month with MLS.
“It's the perfect time for me to leave,” he said. “Everyone says timing, and the timing is perfect. I think right now is my time. ... I looked [at Europe], but the offer from the GA is too hard to pass up,” he said. “And I want to live in America a little longer.”