Orlando City has officially announced the signing of 30-year-old goalkeeper Brian Rowe following a successful trial period with the club. Jordan Culver of ProSoccerUSA.com first reported the impending signing a few days ago and now it’s official. The veteran, who is entering his eighth season as a pro, has 69 MLS appearances to his name and comes in to a positional group that is both comparatively young and inexperienced at this level.
“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.” said Orlando City SC Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi in a club press release.
Rowe himself spilled the beans before the official announcement on social media last weekend.
It is no secret that Orlando struggled to stem the flow of goals in 2018, conceding an historic league-high 74 last campaign but following the departure of longstanding first choice Joe Bendik and backup Earl Edwards, Jr. in the off-season, Muzzi had previously sounded content with the Lions’ goalkeeper situation for 2019 when asked at the MLS Player Combine in January.
“Right now, we have three quality goalkeepers and if any one of the three has to play, I’m very comfortable with any one of the three. That’s not to say that we wouldn’t be looking at a goalkeeper eventually, but that’s not our top priority right now. We may end up getting somebody else. ”
Adam Grinwis, who was thrust into action in five of the final six games last season, was the oldest of the three goalkeepers already on the books at 26 years old, and those five MLS appearances mark the entire top flight experience among the trio the club brought into camp. With the two senior keepers ahead of him seeing their contracts expire in late November, Grinwis perhaps looked set to continue his spell in goal come March but Orlando City Head Coach James O’Connor wasted no time in raiding his former club Louisville City in search of competition, bringing in two-time USL Cup winner Greg Ranjitsingh, who had spent four years as O’Connor’s number one shot stopper.
Rounding out the group was 2015 Homegrown signing Mason Stajduhar who was entering camp on the biggest back foot, having been forced to sit out 2018 to undergo radiation treatment for bone cancer. With his battle a success, he returned to training fit and healthy and ready to fight for the No. 1 shirt, but after a year out and at 21 years old, with no professional experience to his name, he seemed an outside bet for the job.
But it was Rowe who was not only handed the gloves but also the captain’s armband in Saturday’s 2–1 Orlando City Invitational win over New York City FC, ahead of the likes of last year’s regular stand-in skipper Sacha Kljestan. Having already featured in closed-door friendlies, Rowe went the full 90 but was beaten on the half-hour mark from 30 yards as Maxi Moralez ripped a shot past him — a perfunctory dive doing little to stop the Pigeons’ first attempt on goal in a game the Lions seemed in complete control of.
Despite the debut (publicly, anyway) blip, it makes sense that the team has looked to the veteran pool to bolster the position. Rowe started 10 games for the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2018 after they acquired him in a trade with LA Galaxy, where he had spent the last six seasons. The 6-foot-1 Oregon native had a slow and steady rise after initially going unsigned by Chivas USA, which used a second-round Supplement Draft pick to select him in 2012. A breakout year in 2016 saw him lock down the starting role in Los Angeles and it shows he isn’t far removed from his best.
Rowe has 69 career MLS appearances (66 starts) over his first seven years, playing 6,082 minutes. He’s kept 16 clean sheets, allowing 94 goals (six via penalty kicks on seven attempts) and saving 214 shots. He has a career record of 24-19-25. His best season came with the Galaxy in 2016, when he made 30 starts in 31 appearances, recording nine shutouts and a record of 12-5-14, and making a career high 113 saves.
What It Means for Orlando
It remains to be seen just how much cap space Orlando is investing in Rowe, although he earned $135,000 to Bendik’s $180,000 last year and likely hasn’t earned an increased offer. He hasn’t been a regular in MLS for two seasons now and with the preseason comments from O’Connor, Muzzi and Goalkeeping Coach Thabane Sutu all firmly on the side of the job being anyone’s to win, he cannot be considered a guaranteed starter, nor would I expect him to be compensated as such. With O’Connor using all three options available to him last year, the Irishman has proved he is not shy in making a personnel change at the position. This point is furthered by Rowe being assigned the squad number 23, meaning the traditional No. 1 remains vacant — a clear sign the job is there to be earned.
It’s not a glamorous or splashy signing but he is undoubtedly the most proven option and it could prove shrewd business to add experience and leadership to the ranks. Additionally, with a fourth goalkeeper now on the roster, Orlando could see fit to loan out youngster Stajduhar for some much-needed first team experience in the newly rebranded USL Championship. USL League One affiliate OCB seems an unlikely destination given Mike Potempa’s comments describing the side as an upwards development pathway not to be used as a loan destination for players already with the senior MLS team, but a Championship spell is well within the realm of possibility.