Nov. 27, 2011
By Amy Hughes
It takes a special kind of mentality to be a goalkeeper.
"It's tough being a goalie," said UCLA men's soccer goalkeeper coach Patrick Seymour. "It's really hard when you only have one position that you play. It's not like being a freshman field player when, if you're good, we'll find you a spot on the field. As a goalie, that isn't an option. It takes a special person to keep battling every day"
The Bruins' current starting goalkeeper, fifth-year senior Brian Rowe, has learned that lesson firsthand. He spent two full seasons and most of a third on the bench behind All-American Brian Perk before becoming UCLA's starting goalkeeper in 2010.
"Coming in to UCLA, I was aware that Brian Perk had been on the national teams for a long time and was one of the best goalkeepers in the country," said Rowe. "I knew he'd be a good person to sit behind and learn a lot from."
A native of Eugene, Ore., Rowe excelled at many sports, earning all-state honors in soccer and football as a kicker for the South Eugene High School football team. He also won district track and field championships in the javelin as a junior and high jump as a senior.
"He's a kid that will beat you in any game you play," said Seymour. "Ping-pong, video games, anything. There's nothing this kid can't do."
Despite all of his athletic accomplishments, Rowe knew he had a lot to learn during his first years at UCLA.
"I knew growing up in Oregon and playing club there, the caliber of soccer isn't really comparable to [the Southern California region]," said Rowe. "It was an eye-opener the first couple of weeks, even the first year of training with UCLA. It took me a little bit of time to get adjusted to the pace of things, but as time moved on I got more and more comfortable."
As Rowe's confidence and experience grew on the practice field, a window of opportunity opened during the fall of 2009. Perk missed five of UCLA's games in September while starting for the United States Under-20 National Team at the FIFA U-20 World Cup. The Bruins needed a solid starting goalkeeper during Perk's absence.
"I had just gotten to UCLA in 2009," recalled Seymour. "When Brian Perk left for the World Cup, that meant Brian Rowe was going to get five or six games, and he hadn't started before. When he stepped in, the whole coaching staff was a little bit unsure about what was going to happen. I told [head coach Jorge Salcedo, and assistant coaches Kenny Arena and Eddie Soto] `Don't worry about it. This guy is ready to start.'"
"One of his first games was against San Diego," Seymour recalled. "The fog rolled in during the second half, and you couldn't see anything. Brian had eight saves. He got peppered, and we won 2-1. Right then, I think we all knew that Brian Rowe could play."
Getting that taste of game action during Perk's absence helped fuel Rowe through a final season on the bench. Rowe collected a 4-0-2 record that season, playing 530 minutes with a 0.839 save percentage and 0.85 goals-against average.
"Growing up I had always been the go-to keeper or the starter, so it was a different experience having to sit the bench," said Rowe. "You lose that drive or that force that keeps you competitive and keeps you wanting to play. It was nice to get in for those games and get your love back for the sport and realize how much you enjoy it. That got me back on the right track, thinking that I could take over the starting spot once Perk was gone and go from there."
That is precisely what Rowe accomplished. The starting goalkeeper job was an open competition during the 2010 preseason and included a highly touted freshman in current redshirt freshman Earl Edwards. Rowe won the starting spot and hasn't looked back.
As a junior in 2010, Rowe started all of UCLA's 22 games and played 2,032 of a possible 2,050 minutes for the Bruins. He posted a .791 save percentage with 91 saves and a 1.06 goals-against average to go with a 16-5 record as the Bruins fell to eventual NCAA runner-up Louisville in the NCAA quarterfinals.
"[Rowe] believes that with his daily preparation and what he does in games that every game he is getting better and better," said Seymour. "Each game he knows, and I think the rest of the team knows, that nothing is going to get by him. It lets the team play a little easier, a little looser. They know that if they make a mistake, Brian Rowe is right there to back them up and stop the ball from going into the net. We wouldn't be where we are without Brian Rowe in goal."
This season, Rowe has started 19 of UCLA's 21 games (Edwards started twice in early September) and holds a 15-3 record and 0.77 GAA with 54 saves and a .783 save percentage entering Sunday's 5 p.m. PT match-up against Rutgers at Drake Stadium. Win or lose, it will be Rowe's final home match at Drake.
"I've started to think about that the last few weeks," said Rowe. "It's sort of sad knowing that any one of these practices or games could be my last here on campus, but that gives me even more drive to try to make it to that national championship, to try to win each game, to keep going. It has been a great time here, and it's something I will never forget."
Rowe, a Pac-12 All-Academic selection this season, walked at UCLA's graduation ceremonies in June and will take his last collegiate final exam on Dec. 5 for his degree in psychology. Once UCLA's soccer season concludes, he intends to continue his soccer career professionally and is hoping for an invitation to the Major League Soccer (MLS) combine. As an alternative, he is ready to pursue playing overseas.
"By midseason last year, [the coaching staff] felt that he could go and play pro, no questions asked," Seymour said. "I think he's going to have to go through the same thing he has gone through at UCLA where if he gets picked up by an MLS team or goes to another country to play, he's going to have to sit and wait a little bit. I think for him, the timing is right. He has really helped himself during the five years he's been here. He's grown a lot. He has turned into a team leader. When I first met him, he was a soft-spoken kid. Now, he is a team leader. When he speaks and when he does things, the whole team watches and listens. He's that kind of player."
Rowe is ready to repeat that cycle of learning and working towards the top spot as a goalkeeper in the professional ranks. His competitive spirit still burns strong.
"It's something I don't think I could be without," said Rowe. "I've grown up playing sports, and I enjoy competition and the team aspect with a group of guys around you."