This had been a long time coming for Kelyn Rowe.
The longtime New England Revolution midfielder had been talked about as a potential signing for the Seattle Sounders for years due to his local roots growing up in the Seattle suburb of Federal Way. The Revs took him third overall in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, where Rowe settled in and wound up making 206 appearances across seven seasons, which meant the homecoming would have to wait.
But after brief stints with Real Salt Lake, Sporting Kansas City and back with New England again, the Sounders finally made Rowe's return to his hometown official when they announced his signing in a Friday release.
"I've wanted to play here for a long time," Rowe told reporters on a video call shortly after the announcement. "It helps that I get to come home and play for one of the best teams in the league. Not everyone can say that when they go play for their hometown club. So I'm very excited to impact this club as much as I can.
"I just always wanted to come and play in front of my family and friends, whichever way it could be. If it was five years ago or five years down the road, I wanted it to happen. But I didn't want to just have one year here and retire or one or two. I wanted to have a whole career here in Seattle in front of my family, in front of my friends, the people that I grew up playing with. So it wasn't just one or two years that it was hopefully many more."
Rowe becomes the latest on the list of Sounders players from the Seattle area, a list that includes DeAndre Yedlin, Lamar Neagle and the recently loaned Jordan Morris. But his signing isn't just for symbolism or a feel-good story.
The Sounders are going to need Rowe this year coming off an offseason that saw them lose key contributors all over the field in Morris, Gustav Svensson and Kelvin Leerdam. Rowe said he prides himself on his versatility, as he's played as a wide attacker in his career, but has also slotted in all over the midfield and even as a fullback. It remains to be seen where head coach Brian Schmetzer chooses to deploy him in 2021, but Rowe figures to be in line for plenty of minutes.
"Expectations are one thing, reality is another," he said. "My expectation is to fight for a spot, that should be every player's expectation, is to fight for a spot every week, week in and week out. We've got a lot of young talent coming in this team. Obviously the loss of Jordan and a few other guys has opened up a few spots, so we plan on doing that, but I've been a utility player for most of my career. As a young kid I was not happy about it, I wanted to be solidified in one spot, but as I've gotten older and wiser in some ways, I think a utility player, whatever I can do to get on the field, I'm happy with."
Rowe said he's maintained a close connection with the city throughout his career, coming home over holiday breaks to spend time with his family and train during the offseason. He also followed closely as the Sounders have become one of the league's most dominant clubs in the last five years, making it to four MLS Cup finals and winning two of them.
While he enjoyed watching that success from afar, Rowe said he also couldn't shake the feeling that it was something that he wanted to be a part of himself. Now, he's got that chance.
"I think the most pride I've felt in this city, one was watching the Seahawks win the Super Bowl, but also watching the Sounders win [MLS Cup]," Rowe said. "One of the years they won it I was in Washington watching the game with some buddies and they won it. It was hard to speak, I was almost in tears, I felt so much pride. But it was also bittersweet because I wanted to be a part of that team. It's my hometown team. So the fact that I'm able to that now, I hope we can make it that far and win something while I'm here."