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Orlando City goalkeeper Brian Rowe pushing to play, improve

Following the signing of Peruvian national team keeper Pedro Gallese, Rowe is fighting for a starting role in goal.

Orlando City goalkeeper Brian Rowe (middle) stops a shot during the 2019 season. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Orlando City keeper Brian Rowe enters every season with an understanding nothing about his job is guaranteed.

During the past eight years, he’s been a starter, a backup and a pool goalkeeper for the league. So when the team signed Peruvian national team keeper Pedro Gallese weeks before the 2020 preseason, Rowe saw it as simply another challenge.

“Entering my ninth season in this league, I can wholeheartedly say that I want to play every single game,” Rowe said. “That’s just the competitiveness in me. Coming off of a year like last year where I felt very good, I want to still improve and and build on that.”

Rowe spent part of the offseason at home in California and traveling with his wife, but it wasn’t long before he started “itching” to get back into training. That desire to compete only became stronger with introduction to Gallese, who was introduced to the club as one of the top keepers in the league.

Last season marked the best of Rowe’s career — 32 starts, 110 saves, seven shutouts — and he felt particularly confident looking back on his performance. Even in a backup role, Rowe would be called on extensively throughout this season as Gallese reports to national team duty.

But Rowe isn’t settling for backup. He plans to approach each day of training with the mindset of fighting for the starting slot.

“Whatever role I am in this year, I’m just pushing Pedro as much as I can,” Rowe said. “He’s going to push me and I think it’s going to make us both better goalkeepers. That’s naturally going to make the team a better team.”

The bond in a goalkeeper unit is typically much tighter than any other position group. The group of three or four keepers will spend the first half hour of every training working together, isolated to the side of the rest of the team. That daily training time offers a sense of community to the players who occupy the most solitary position on the pitch.

Last year’s goalkeeper union was particularly strong, and Rowe developed a deep friendship with former keepers Adam Grinwis and Greg Ranjitsingh. Neither player was retained for the 2020 season, but after eight seasons in MLS and a stint in the goalkeeper pool, Rowe is used to constant turnover in his teammates.

Now, he’s working to build bonds with Gallese and homegrown keeper Mason Stajduhar, along with new additions along the backline.

“It’s all pretty fluid, I think,” Rowe said. “You can step in with any team and any players, and it’s a universal game it’s kind of a universally understood. So it’s just trying to get to know them personally, on and off the field, and just kind of how to bring out the best in them.”

Despite the competition between the pair, both Gallese and Rowe feel their chemistry as teammates is already strong. Gallese watches Rowe carefully during training, and said they both learn from each other’s different approach in goal.

The language barrier has been an obstacle at first between the two — Rowe isn’t fluent in Spanish, and Gallese only speaks a little bit of English. But both are working hard to bridge the gap, and Gallese said he is working every day on building his fluency in English.

When they’re on the pitch, however, Gallese said they can connect through a different form of communication.

“At the end of the day when we’re on the field, the language of soccer overpowers everything,” Gallese said. “It just makes it pretty easy to get out there.”

As they look ahead to the 2020 season, both goalkeepers are emphasizing the team’s defensive performances at home.

Orlando City made significant improvement on the defensive end last season, setting a club record with 52 goals allowed in regular season play. But the Lions allowed 32 goals in their home stadium in 2019 — 28 in the MLS regular season and an additional four in U.S. Open Cup games.

That isn’t necessarily out of the ordinary — teams are typically content to grind out defensive draws on the road, while opening up at home for flashy, high-scoring wins in front of their fans. But Rowe wants to set a new standard in 2020, eliminating how often the team feels it’s chasing an opponent from behind while at home.

He believes clamping down on early goals to “keep it at zero” for as long as possible will make a significant difference in the home field environment the Lions hope to create this season. Whether it’s Rowe or Gallese starting in goal, both are committed to limiting the goals scored at Exploria Stadium this season.

“When we’re at home, we need to be the team on the front foot,” Gallese said. “We can’t let up. We can’t let teams come in here and boss us around, we need to do that to them.”

Last year, Rowe said he saw his starting role for the Lions as an unexpected second chance for his career. After being released by the Vancouver Whitecaps at the conclusion of the 2018 season, Rowe had felt “at peace” with walking away from soccer.

But after a record-setting season in his eighth year as a professional goalkeeper, Rowe said he’s feeling the fire of competition this year.

“I want to make it a hard decision for the coaches, whether they start Pedro or whether they start me,” Rowe said. “I’m trying to take full advantage of any and all opportunities I get. That’s really all I can do is just control what you do every day and the effort you put in and the rest kind of falls where it will.”

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