Orlando, Florida — While the coronavirus pandemic kept players around the world off the field for weeks on end, few players at the MLS is Back Tournament experienced a wait longer than New England Revolution midfielder Kelyn Rowe.
Rowe completed his first full-game performance in more than nine months in the Revolution’s 1–0 victory over the Montreal Impact last Thursday. He showed few signs of rust, completing 88 percent of his passes and helping New England boss possession for most of the match.
The Revolution plays D.C. United Friday night in their second game of Group C with a chance to advance to the knockout round. Rowe says his team, which currently sits second in the group behind Toronto FC, seeks a similarly dominant performance against D.C.
“You build on it,” Rowe told Last Word on Soccer in an interview Thursday when asked about transitioning from one game to the next. “We’re going to continue to play the way we did [against Montreal]. We had good moments on both offense and defense.
“It was the first game of the year for myself and Carles Gil, so we’re getting back into it. There are a lot of loose bolts to tighten, but we’re going to build on the possession we had and the chances we created.”
No time to waste chances for Kelyn Rowe
New England out-shot Montreal 19–7 and controlled the flow of the game but nearly dropped points as the Impact fought back with a flurry of late chances. Such a comeback would have been par for the course at the MLS is Back Tournament, where blown leads and second half rallies have been a hallmark of competition.
In fact, D.C. United produced a similar performance when it came back from a two-goal deficit with a man-disadvantage to tie Toronto in the first group game.
“I think you can take away that their team doesn’t give up,” Rowe said. “They had everything against them, down 2–0 and down a man and they fight and claw to get back into it and tie the game. We have to play 90 minutes and not give anything away.”
Toronto, last year’s MLS Cup runners-up, returned to winning ways Thursday evening, beating Montreal 4–3 in both sides’ second game.
But other tournament favorites, like reigning champions Seattle Sounders FC, defending Supporters Shield winners Los Angeles FC and Eastern Conference juggernauts Atlanta United and New York City FC all remain winless.
Rowe said the tournament’s unpredictability is a warning for all teams to maintain their focus.
“You watch any given game and it’s kinda wide-open,” Rowe said. “You don’t know what will happen, and when you think you do the tables turn.
“If you look at a full season, and you look at the beginning of the year, a team like Seattle doesn’t always do well but by playoff time they’re the best team in the league. Teams don’t have that luxury of a long time this time. We’re going game by game and know we have to show up all the time.”
Rowe: ‘It’s impossible to be fully distracted’
The MLS is Back Tournament started in the middle of a pandemic and on the heels of nationwide protests about racism and police brutality. Players have used their platform as professional athletes to raise awareness and have shown solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement while on the pitch.
Rowe believes he and his teammates have appropriately balanced competition with responding to the challenges outside their bubble environment.
“We’ve taken a positive attitude, and the whole bubble is what you make of it,” he said. “You can’t go home and be with your family, or leave the resort, but what we have is incredible. We have entertainment, it’s safe, and we get three square meals a day with some good snacks as well.
“I think it’s impossible to be fully distracted, and I wouldn’t want my teammates to be either one. You have to compartmentalize and make sure the correct things are in the correct mind. When the time comes for a game, that’s the biggest importance. Whether it’s a small protest in games, or a phone call to our families, we’ve stayed positive and stayed in control of what we can control. As time goes on that will be harder because we’ll have been away longer, but as of now we’ve done a good job supporting each other.”