Brian Rowe gets call to back up Toronto FC in goal

Brian Rowe, a 23-year-old goalkeeper, was taken in the January supplemental draft pick and later released by Chivas USA. Then, his phone rang and he found himself looking over a contract before taking the red-eye to Toronto on Saturday.

Brian Rowe was in the shower — in Los Angeles — when the call came Friday.

Earlier that day, some 3,500 kilometres away, Stefan Frei had broken his leg training at Toronto's BMO Field. With its home opener Saturday, Toronto FC needed a backup goalie — pronto.

"I was in the shower and my agent called me three times in a row," said Rowe, who had been working out in the morning with some former UCLA teammates.

Rowe, a 23-year-old from Eugene, Ore., was taken in the January supplemental draft pick and later released by Chivas USA. His agent had been talking to MLS about possible options but Rowe had been preparing to play in the USL or PDL.

Instead, he found himself looking over a contract before taking the red-eye to Toronto that night for Saturday's 1 p.m. ET game against the visiting San Jose Earthquakes.

The call came around lunchtime Los Angeles time. His flight left LAX at 9:50 p.m. PT and arrived in Toronto at 5:30 a.m. ET. Add in 90 minutes at Immigration and he got to his hotel between 8:30 and 9 a.m.

"Then I got picked up at 10:15," he said.

Some two hours later he was on the pitch at BMO Field with starting 'keeper Milos Kocic, goalie coach Stewart Kerr and the rest of the TFC players.

In the BMO press box, reporters only knew his last name from the initial team sheet. The first name came later with the official lineups.  

Rowe reckons he got about two hours sleep on the plane and a one-hour nap at his hotel before game time. But the adrenalin was pumping at the stadium, thanks to his trek and the atmosphere of the 20,000-plus home opener crowd.

"I would have been ready if I needed to be," he said.

Toronto went on to lose the game 3-0 with Rowe watching from the sidelines with the rest of the substitutes.

Despite the result, Rowe says it was an occasion to remember — from the crowd to the anthems.

The former UCLA second-team All-American is designated as a "league pool goalkeeper" — available in a short-term situation when the team is experiencing "extreme hardship," due to events like injury or national team call-ups.

A league spokeswoman says they normally have three such 'keepers in reserve. This year it's Chris Sharpe and Rowe although a third may soon join them.

Frei is expected to be out eight to 10 weeks with a broken fibula. While there is no time frame for Rowe's stay here, he says he'll do whatever is needed.

The young 'keeper is clearly thrilled to be in Toronto.

"It was exciting to come up to a big city with a great group of [soccer] followers," he said.

The six-foot-one, 185-pounder spent five years at UCLA, redshirting as a freshman and then spending almost two years behind All-American Brian Perk (now with the Los Angeles Galaxy) before starting the final two seasons.

As a senior last year, Rowe posted eight straight shutouts from Oct. 16 to Dec. 3, one shy of the school record. He did not allow a goal for 803 consecutive minutes, just 48 short of the Bruins' record.

Collegiate career

He wrapped up his collegiate career in December losing to the top-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels in the semifinals of the NCAA College Cup.

North Carolina won on penalty kicks after the score was knotted at 2-2 following extra time.

"Despite conceding two goals, Brian Rowe had an outstanding game," wrote the Daily Bruin. "The redshirt senior made no less than three acrobatic saves that wowed the crowd and frustrated the Tar Heels, including one with two mere seconds remaining in the second overtime period that rescued the Bruins from sure disaster.

"Rowe had nine saves on the night, but was powerless to stop the Tar Heels in the penalty shootout."

The Bruins finished their season with a 18-5-1 record (10-0-0 record in Pac-12 play).

After spending the holidays back home in Oregon, Rowe headed to Florida in January for the MLS Combine to showcase his skills. When that was done, he flew from Fort Lauderdale to Finland to try out with VPS Vaasa.

"I wanted to check out as many places as I could before the draft," he explained. "And that was the last window to head over there."  

While in Finland, he monitored the MLS supplemental draft online. Chivas took him in the second round, 24th overall.

He spent almost a month with Chivas, who eventually chose Patrick McLain over Rowe as their third-string 'keeper to go with starter Dan Kennedy and backup Tim Melia.

"It was a good experience," Rowe said. "I was glad to come back to L.A. with all my friends, knowing the area. And it was a great organization.  

"But as with every club, they have to make tough decisions and it just didn't work out in the end."

After Chivas, he spent a week on trial with the Carolina RailHawks of the North American Soccer League but that didn't work out. He had been training back in Los Angeles for two to three weeks before the MLS called.

After a day off Sunday, catching up on some sleep, Rowe had his first Toronto training session Monday.

"It was fun getting in with the team and getting to know everybody some more," he said.

Currently in limbo — he shipped his belongings home to Oregon after graduation and had been staying with friends in Los Angeles, which is also home to his girlfriend — his new home is a downtown Toronto hotel.

"I've been [living] out of my suitcase since I left for the Combine, which started about Jan. 2," he said cheerfully. "I've realized I can live on not too many clothes — just the bare essentials."