By THOMAS FLOYD
In Kelyn Rowe’s household, it’s not a challenge to see where the competitive drive comes from. Quite simply, it runs in the family.
Younger sibling Baely, a gymnast enrolling at Utah, won the all-around national title at the Junior Olympics in May. Older sister Bree, meanwhile, is keeping her soccer dreams alive with the NWSL’s Seattle Reign reserve squad after playing collegiately at Oregon.
And 21-year-old Kelyn isn’t doing half-bad himself, enjoying a breakout campaign in his second MLS season with the New England Revolution.
“Growing up in that household,” he said with a laugh, “there was a lot of competition.”
It’s a good-natured sibling rivalry that remains strong, with a pingpong tournament typically finding its way onto the docket whenever the family gets together. None of them is particularly good, Rowe is quick to point out. But that’s hardly the point.
For Rowe, that penchant for competition has always been there — from childhood races with his older sister down the hallway to roaming the field of Gillette Stadium with a Revolution jersey on his back.
“He’ll have a good laugh in the locker room,” coach Jay Heaps said. “But when he gets on the field, there’s no one who’s more competitive than he is, and there’s no one who wants to flat-out play the game more than him.”
After compiling three goals and five assists as a rookie, Rowe has already scored twice and set up six tallies halfway through this season, helping the Revolution to a 6-7-6 mark that has the young but talented club competing for a playoff berth.
In doing so, Rowe has found consistency that escaped him for much of last year. While Heaps said the Washington state native was at times New England’s best player in 2012, the grind of the nine-month regular season eventually caught up with Rowe.
Between the MLS campaign, a U.S. Under-23 National Team camp, his sophomore season at UCLA and a training stint with German side FC Koln, Rowe had gone more than a year and a half without a proper break before finally recharging this past offseason.
“That first year obviously was tough,” Rowe said. “I had a lot of ups and downs and there were a lot walls to hit, that I had to climb over, really. But this year, I haven’t hit a wall — I’ve been striding through and I’ve been finding a good groove.”
Also helping Rowe’s growth has been the opportunity to play his preferred central midfield position after being used on the flanks for much of last year.
Although he isn’t a typical No. 10 at the top of New England’s midfield trio, Rowe is a technically adept player with the ability to make runs in the attacking third that create space for forwards Saer Sene, Juan Agudelo and Diego Fagundez.
“He can play the game, and he can do it in a lot of different ways,” Heaps said. “He’s got good feet when balls are played into him. He’s got an excellent first touch. His vision is really good, so he’s not afraid to play a 20-, 30-yard ball.
“But for me, he’s also got power. And when I say that, I mean he’s got vertical power, meaning he can get behind defenses, he can penetrate. He’s not just a stand-’em-up midfielder that plays it — he’ll go get the ball and he’ll make a run behind.”
Rowe knows he must maintain that dynamic form if he plans on maintaining a starting spot. With veteran playmaker Juan Toja providing stern competition, there’s no room for complacency.
While Rowe is pleased with the progress he’s made, he feels it isn’t good enough — particularly when it comes to a finishing touch that’s still developing.
“Right now, it’s just the little things, the final ball I don’t finish and making sure my percentage is a lot more than it has been lately,” Rowe said. “I’m putting some away now, but I’m also getting 10, 20 chances. It I get three or four chances, I need to put at least one away.”
As Rowe looks ahead to the second half of 2013, he’s focused on not burning out. That means doing plenty of injury-preventing exercises that keep his ankles and knees strong, even as the matches pile up. He also has dropped his habit of eating out three or four times a week, learning how to prepare a variety of healthy chicken, fish and pasta dishes.
It’s all part of becoming the complete professional player New England envisioned when it selected him No. 3 overall in 2012. Rowe knows he’s now on the right trajectory — and he wants to keep it that way.
“You don’t want that sophomore slump,” Rowe said. “The big thing is confidence. I have that confidence that I’ve had all throughout my youth career and my college career. I’m finding that again.”