Brian Rowe had barely played since leaving UCLA – a few Reserve League appearances, 45 minutes in a friendly, nothing more – so his magnificent Major League Soccer debut on Saturday night came as quite the surprise, even to those who know what he can do.
It did not, however, shock Rowe, whose performance was central to the LA Galaxy's 2-0 victory at Real Salt Lake.
“I knew what I was capable of, and I felt comfortable out there,” said the 24-year-old goalkeeper, who made seven saves – the first of them a tremendous stop on a rising rocket from Joao Plata – and expertly commanded his area as LA (4-1-2) held off RSL's late onslaught. “There was definitely some nerves in the beginning, but it was nice getting [two early goals] to get a little comfortable lead, and then the first save I got to make just helped me ease into it a little bit and get comfortable.”
Rowe, ostensibly LA's No. 3 goalkeeper, was given his chance after Carlo Cudicini was sidelined by a leg strain. Brian Perk, the No. 2, just returned to training following sports-hernia surgery last month and was on the bench for the first time since the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series against Herediano.
The former NSCAA All-American was drafted last year by Chivas USA but didn't make their roster. He became a league pool goalkeeper (sitting on LA's bench twice last May and making a pair of reserve appearances for Portland), then signed in July with the Galaxy, who have used him sparingly. He played the second half of the Galaxy's friendly last summer against Tottenham, made the game-day roster for three CCL matches and played in three reserve games, then saw his first action this season in the reserve game against Seattle two weeks ago.
The Galaxy had seen him in training, of course, but they got their first real look Saturday night.
“Brian Rowe, he was an absolute freak tonight,” said Mike Magee, who wore the armband with Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and Todd Dunivant out with injuries. “We all knew he'd be good, but you never expect anyone to have a game like that, especially on their debut, in Salt Lake. I believed in him before, but this was ... man, I'm at a loss for words for his performance.”
Rowe followed his save on Plata by handling sharp shots by Kyle Beckerman and Tony Beltran in the first half, racing off his line to beat Lovel Palmer to a ball over the top and defusing a Olmes García opportunity midway through the second half, easily handling a Yordany Álvarez volley in the 90th minute, then knocking down Devon Sandoval's goalmouth rebound during a four-shot sequence in stoppage time.
A clean sheet was a real achievement.
“Outstanding. Outstanding,” head coach Bruce Arena said. “There's no other way to put it. We obviously felt coming into the game he's a good goalkeeper. However, no experience in the league, and you're always concerned about the early minutes of the game. ... He looked comfortable right from the start [and] really composed throughout the evening.”
Rowe was simply thankful for the opportunity.
“It had been a while since I was in a big game like that ...,” he said. “It was fun to get the first game and get a result like this. I couldn't ask for anything more.”