BRIAN SCIARETTA - Wednesday, April 20, 2011
As one of the top players in NCAA soccer, UCLA midfielder Kelyn Rowe is currently on trial at French club Stade Rennes this week as he contemplates turning professional.
Rowe, 19, arrived in France over the weekend and began training on Tuesday with the Ligue 1 club that is currently in fifth place but only two points out of third place. So far he is happy with his first two days which included a scrimmage today.
"My first two days at Stade Rennes have been great," Rowe told YA from France. "The club and players have been nothing but welcoming. I had a good training the first day [Tuesday] with a fitness test after, and a scrimmage today [Wednesday] that I showed myself fairly well."
The jump from NCAA soccer to European soccer is indeed a high jump but Rowe believes that his trial will give him an idea of what aspects of his game he needs to improve and he is confident in his ability to eventually get there.
"After these two days I know I have much more to work on to get to the highest level in Europe," Rowe explained. "But that is why I am here doing what I am doing. I want to train myself at a high level and learn from the players above me to hopefully soon be playing aside them."
At UCLA, Rowe is part of a program that has been one of the building blocks of US Soccer. Since soccer first began rising to prominence in the United States beginning with the 1990 World Cup, many of the best American players have come through UCLA.
The tradition began with players like Brad Friedel, Paul Caligiuri, Frankie Hedjuk and Cobi Jones but has continued with current national team regulars like Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein, and Benny Feilhaber.
After completing his freshman year at UCLA, Rowe has enjoyed his time at UCLA and is satisfied the storied program has prepared him for a professional career in the same manner it has with many of its alumni.
"UCLA has prepared me to be a professional the most in my maturity on and off the field," Rowe discussed. "I was lucky enough to have my parents raise me well enough to know right from wrong more times than not, but UCLA took that to the next level and forced me to grow up a little. The mental part of the game is so important and UCLA and the coaches have helped me obtain a high level of mental maturity."
On his trial at Rennes which will be followed by a stop in Germany, Rowe has not lost his NCAA eligibility as he will be paying his own way and has not signed an agent. The Federal Way, Washington native admits that returning to UCLA for his sophmore season is an option.
Whether it is after these current European trials or in the future, Rowe will eventually have to make a decision as to where to begin his career. Rowe does not have dual citizenship with any other country so some European options may be limited.
In addition to Europe, Rowe is also open to beginning his career in MLS where he would likely be one of the top draft picks. One of the biggest factors in his decision will be the level of interest from clubs and his ability to get playing time.
"As for when I am going to make the jump from college to being a professional, I am leaving all the doors open at college, MLS, and Europe." Rowe said of his future. "I don't have to choose right now and I can just play and enjoy the opportunity I have been blessed with."
"Like I said I have kept all doors open, playing in the MLS would be just as much as a dream-come-true as playing in France or Germany," he added. "I want to play at a club that wants me to play for them, if that is in Germany, great, or if it is in Seattle, great. I just want to play. I do not have dual citizenship so it does make Europe a little more difficult, but I don't mind a challenge."
Rowe arrived in France on the heels of the most difficult experience of his career. In March he was selected to the US U-20 World Cup qualifying roster and after winning their group games, they fell to hosts Guatemala in a winner-take-all game. The stunning upset meant that the promising team would miss out on the U-20 World Cup.
While Rowe is eager to put the experience behind him, he looks forward to representing the US again and fees that the many of the players on the U-20 team will be solid contributors on the international level.
"Not qualifying was the worst feeling I have felt in my soccer career and I will do anything to not have that feeling again," Rowe concluded. "[Next time, it will make me] rise to a big occasion and know how to handle the pressure. Coach Rongen was great as well, if anyone could get me to understand the system it would be him, and he did it in a day my first camp. Overall it was a great experience that I hope to have again with the Olympic team or the full team."