Kelyn Rowe and Justin Portillo were the last two standing.
It was late Monday morning just after Real Salt Lake practice ended, and the two were engrossed in a shooting competition to see who would emerge victorious, taking a shot from each side and having to make at least one. Rowe did just enough to secure the win, as Portillo hit the post twice.
Rowe took a victory lap and with that, introduced himself to his RSL teammates in more ways than one on his very first training session with his new club.
Rowe was acquired by Salt Lake just before the summer transfer window ended. He came over via trade with Sporting Kansas City in exchange for a 2019 international roster spot and $75,000 in targeted allocation money. General manager Craig Waibel said in a club release that Rowe adds depth and experience to the midfield position, which already features Everton Luiz, Damir Kreilach, Kyle Beckerman, Nick Besler and Albert Rusnák.
But despite the logjam at his position, Rowe is approaching the next nine games of the regular season with designs on being a player that elevates RSL into securing a postseason berth by any means necessary.
“I imagine it [his role] as making sure that we make playoffs, for one,” Rowe told The Salt Lake Tribune before Wednesday’s win over Seattle. “And that might be in the sense of playing one out of the 10 games. That might be coming in at nine out of the 10 games. That might be starting half and coming in the other half. It doesn’t matter.”
Interim head coach Freddy Juarez said Rowe’s presence would keep other players on their toes and keep them motivated to continue playing hard and earning their spots on the roster. And the knowledge Rowe gleaned from his former team should also benefit RSL, Juarez said.
“He comes from Kansas City, where they play a good system, a good brand of soccer — I think a lot of the same principles that we want to implement here,” Juarez said.
Rowe comes from an athletic family. His older sister, Bree, played soccer at the University of Washington. His younger sister, Baely, was a star gymnast at the University of Utah. Rowe himself played a variety of sports other than soccer growing up, including baseball, football and basketball.
And yes, even gymnastics.
“I loved running around and just jumping and flipping,” Rowe said. “That was my biggest thing.”
He stopped competing in gymnastics at about 8 or 9, he said. He said the sport allowed him to develop strength and balance at a young age, and also gave him an intimate understanding of his body — knowledge he still uses to this day.
Bree was how Rowe was first introduced into soccer. During halftime of her games, a young Rowe would “beg” his parents to cross balls to him so he could try to score off them. He worked on bicycle kicks first-time finishes and other techniques in those impromptu sessions.
“That was the most fun I had because it was the start of my creativity in the game,” Rowe said.
Being creative is not the only aspect to Rowe’s game. He said he’s always running round chasing after the ball.
“I’m like a golden retriever,” Rowe said. “I’m a paid golden retriever.”
The other thing he “loves” to on the soccer field: shoot from distance.
“You’ll see that a lot,” Rowe said. “Especially in the altitude. The ball flies.”
Off the field, Rowe is a coffee and wine connoisseur. His parents grew up in Northern California, so the wine knowledge was something he naturally picked up. He described himself of something of a wine “snob.”
But what really gets him going is coffee. He developed a heightened appreciation for it after a teammate in New England introduced him to high quality coffee and taught him to make his own. Now, he has two cups of coffee in the morning, an espresso in the afternoon, and an espresso right before a game.
Rowe admitted getting traded midseason is difficult, especially having to leave his teammates with whom he has made personal connections on and off the field. He has yet to find an apartment in Salt Lake City and is currently living out of a hotel downtown.
But his mind is focused on making the rest of the season worthwhile and getting to know his new teammates, their tendencies on the field and who they are as people.
“If I can’t get a connection with these guys in 10 weeks,” Rowe said, “something is wrong with me.”
REAL SALT LAKE VS LOS ANGELES FC
At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah
Kickoff » Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV » KMYU
Radio » 700 AM
Last meeting » LAFC 2, RSL 1 (March 23, 2019)
Records » RSL 12-9-4, LAFC 17-3-4
About LAFC » Won six of its previous seven games, including three straight. … Carlos Vela leads league in goals (23) and assists (15). … Averages 2.7 goals scored per game. ... Eliminated by RSL in the knockout round of the 2018 postseason.
About RSL » Has won three consecutive games. … Given up just five goals in last 10 games. … Sam Johnson and Albert Rusnák lead team with nine goals apiece. … Coming off midweek win over Seattle. … Corey Baird has scored three goals in previous two games. ... Nick Besler is out with a broken foot suffered against Sporting Kansas City. There is no timetable for his return.