FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – In an otherwise drab and boring contest that lacked much inspiration, it was a combination play between Kelyn Rowe and Teal Bunbury that broke the deadlock to lead the New England Revolution to a 1-0 victory against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium.
Rowe delivered an inch-perfect cross into the heart of the box in the 53rd minute, his feed from the right flank reaching Bunbury, whose out-stretched left leg neatly tucked the ball into the back of the net past Whitecaps goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic.
This was Rowe’s sixth assist of the season; Saturday’s play was eerily similar to an assist he had on one of Bunbury’s goals in a 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy on July 23. Rowe has yet to score in a league game this season, but recorded a goal for the U.S. in a playmaking position against Nicaragua in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in June. He’s scored 27 career goals and was drafted third overall in 2012 by Revolution coach Jay Heaps to play behind forwards.
…Which seems to suggest Rowe is an attacking player.
So why did Rowe, like a number of other times this season, start Saturday’s match at left back?
“I call him a jackknife,” said Heaps after Saturday’s game. “He’s got a lot of tools. Each one is razor sharp…Tonight I felt if we could go East-West against this team we’d have opportunities for Kelyn to serve.
“He’s one of those players that can get his head up and see where a run is going. And he has a natural ability to do that, and it’s pretty special quite frankly.”
Injuries – and, by extension, lack of depth – have contributed to Rowe spending more time at left back. But he’s sometimes looked out of place in that position, which explains why Rowe returned to midfield at halftime on Saturday and sent Je-Vaughn Watson back to full back.
Rowe didn’t wait long to make a difference.
The decisive play started with Marinovic giving the ball away on a goal kick, his clearance falling to Rowe in midfield. Rowe then play the ball to Kei Kamara, who held up possession before sending the ball back to Rowe on the right wing. Rowe then curled a right-footed cross for Bunbury to half-volley into the back of the net from just outside the six-yard box.
“That’s standard Kelyn,” said Revolution captain Lee Nguyen. “He gets the ball and his head’s up looking for a cross. He made great play to find Teal…at the end of the day we need those types of plays to grind out results.”
Does Rowe care that he’s spent so much time at left back recently?
Rowe paused for a few seconds before answering after Saturday’s game:
“It’s one of those that it’s going to be no matter where I play, I’m going to make a difference,” he said. “That’s my goal every time I step on the field is to make a difference – and a positive one at that. Whether it be going forward, defensively, or learning – whatever it may be I want to make a difference. Whether I play left back, right mid, left mid, up front, goalkeeper, doesn’t really matter, I’m going to make that difference.”
OK, but do you still think you’re able to make an offensive difference at left back?
“I think if you look at the touches the last two games I’ve had at left back I think I was over 80 touches, completing balls – whether dangerous balls or balls into [Gershon Koffie] or back to [Tony Delamea] – I got multiple touches and found myself up the field as much as I could.”
For the record, Rowe had 93 touches in last weekend’s 4-1 loss to Chicago. He made three tackles, one interception, and was left for dead on the Fire’s opening goal. He also had eight crosses – but not key passes.
Rowe was better in New England’s 3-0 victory over Philadelphia two weekends ago. With 81 touches, he took one shot, had three key passes, made two interceptions and five clearances, and had the highest passing accuracy of any player on the field that lasted more than an hour.
So maybe Rowe deserves more credit for what he’s able to accomplish in a defensive position.
But his play in the attack – and that goal he created against Vancouver – is evidence of a playmaking midfielder more than it is evidence of a full back.