SANFORD, Fla. — New Orlando City goalkeeper Brian Rowe arrived at preseason training in Bradenton with something to prove.
The MLS veteran was out of contract after a one-year stint with the Vancouver Whitecaps. He got to training at IMG Academy during the second week of Orlando City’s stay there and immediately became a veteran presence among a group of goalkeepers who lacked experience.
“It’s always tough in the offseason without a team and when you don’t get offered a contract,” Rowe said. “I think it puts our profession in perspective. It’s something that can be taken away at any minute. It’s never a guarantee that you’re going to be in this league, that you’re going to get picked up, get a contract, let alone start. It’s something that, after being in this league as long as I have, it’s just that extra motivation. It’s a new opportunity to come in [with] a new group of guys, being the veteran guy. It renews that love of the game for me.”
Rowe’s signing was announced by Orlando City SC on Friday. Pro Soccer USA first reported Feb. 16 that Rowe was going to be signed by the club.
“Brian is a guy that brings a tremendous amount of experience to our team, and we are thrilled to welcome him officially to the Club.” Orlando City SC executive vice president of soccer operations Luiz Muzzi said in a statement.
Rowe, 30, started 10 games for the Whitecaps last season, conceding 22 goals and recording 29 saves. He was traded to the Whitecaps after six seasons with the LA Galaxy, where he had a 21-16-21 record during the regular season and a 2-1-0 record in the playoffs. He had his best season in 2016 — he started 30 matches that season and had nine shutouts.
He started Orlando City’s 2-1 preseason victory over NYCFC.
“It’s an awesome opportunity,” Rowe said about being signed by Orlando City. “It’s a great organization. A great team. A great fanbase. A great city.
“Getting the chance to come out here and play, it’s a stadium that you always hated coming to just because the fanbase, the noise, just the atmosphere they have there. It’s a place where you just hating coming. To be a part of that now, especially with James in here now, a bunch of new guys, new faces, a new culture — it’s something that’s really exciting and I’m excited for the opportunity this year.”
With a smile, Rowe recalled how he figured out he was going to Bradenton. His agent let him know.
“I got a call saying, ‘Hey, you’re on a flight. They want you out in Bradenton,'” Rowe said. “So I’m like, ‘Hey, count me in. I’m there.'”
Since arriving at IMG, Rowe has gotten the full scope of the culture O’Connor is trying to build.
“I think just building that family, that accountability, the reliability and just that work ethic,” Rowe said. “At the end of the day, us stepping onto the field and trusting each other and working for each other, it’s been a fun thing to be a part of. I think it’s new for all of these guys. Just having James in his first preseason to put his real thumbprint on it and develop something he wants. It’s been exciting to be a part of. To see the amount of work these guys are putting in and the commitment to each other each day is going to lead to something special this year.”
Rowe is the goalkeeper on the Lions’ roster with the most MLS experience. Greg Ranjitsingh, Mason Stajduhar and Adam Grinwis were all endorsed by Muzzi before the start of preseason training, but Grinwis is the only one among them who has started an MLS match. With Rowe on the roster, Orlando City is expected to loan out one of the other three goalkeepers.
Rowe said he’s enjoying being a mentor to the younger goalkeepers.
“I’ve been in all of their spots,” he said with a small laugh. “Coming into the league as a pool goalkeeper, then starting out as a No. 3 with L.A., then kind of working up to being on the bench, then being a starter, then kind of in and out of the starting lineup. I’m just trying to connect with them and help them along as much as I can.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my career. I think being in L.A. for six years, having that stability, but then Vancouver last year and coming here this year, I always enjoy working with new goalkeepers, especially young guys, giving back. Just trying to impact some of the stuff that I’ve learned along the way from the a lot of goalkeepers that I’ve gotten to work with.”