More than a decade ago, Brian Carroll was a wide-eyed rookie simply trying to impress the D.C. United technical staff enough to put him in his first match.
At that point, Carroll didn’t know where his career would lead or how it would unfold.
He was just doing everything he could to make his MLS debut.
Fast forward to now and Carroll is a savvy veteran about to compete in his 300th career MLS match.
If the Philadelphia Union captain starts at his usual spot in the midfield Saturday night, it will occur against – who else? – D.C. United.
“It wasn’t a goal of mine,” Carroll said of playing at least 300 matches in the league. “I think it just comes along with trying to be a good pro and it’s definitely a cool accomplishment if I’ll be able to do it on that game. I think it’s just a testament to being around good clubs and definitely, I’ll look back at the memories that have taken place through that stretch of games. It’s just something I’ll look back on and appreciate more down the line.”
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Did Carroll ever anticipate playing 300 matches?
“Maybe not, especially given how my rookie year went,” Carroll said. “To get an opportunity to play some in my second season and to take advantage of it and to know that it would transpire into this, I would have been thrilled back then if you had told me that. I was trying to play, learn and get better. I’ve been very fortunate through the years and I’m looking forward to this match.”
Carroll was only looking forward to his first match when he was with D.C. United. Then it came in 2004.
“It was against San Jose, my second season,” Carroll said. “I didn’t play at all my first season. My first home game in 2004 against San Jose, we won and it was a good experience. I’ve kind of never looked back since. It’s been a great ride.”
Carroll, a former standout at Wake Forest product, has won two MLS Cups -- one with former D.C. United (and Union) manager Peter Nowak in 2004 and another in 2008 with the Columbus Crew. Carroll also was part of four straight Supporters' Shields from 2006-2009 -- two with D.C. United, two with the Columbus Crew.
Carroll was acquired by the Union on Nov. 22, 2010, and helped guide them to their first playoff appearance a year later.
The Union, currently in playoff position – fifth in the Eastern Conference – can help further secure that berth with another three points against D.C. United.
“Absolutely, I think anytime you play against a team you used to play for, there’s that extra little motivation,” Carroll said. “And it’s where I grew up and where my family is so you also want to show well for them.”
The Union have won two straight matches – a 1-0 victory at Sporting Kansas City and a dramatic 1-0 victory over Toronto FC on Kleberson’s free kick late in stoppage time. The wins are contagious and the energy from the players is evident.
“We feel good,” Carroll said. “We feel confident. We have a good group of guys. Now we just need to build our chemistry and go execute and use our energy and use the crowd here and do everything we possibly can to continue to get results like this because that’s what we need, that’s what everyone needs at this point of the year.
“We want to do it for the fans, for our teammates, for our families, for the club in general. We haven’t talked about stealing the spotlight [in the Philadelphia market]. We’re so happy our fans are so passionate about us and we want to go out and put on a show and earn it for them and earn it for ourselves.”
The Union could have accumulated more points, but every club can point to that fact. Finishing the final three matches in strong fashion is the way to go.
“We would love to be clinched for the playoffs already, but a couple bounces here or there and we could have five or six more points and things would be more comfortable,” Carroll said. “At the same time, would people have picked us to be in the race at this point in the season? I’m not sure. So we’re glad we’re in the thick of it and we’re able to compete for a spot. It’s out there. We just have to go and execute and take it.”
Carroll has plenty of playoff experience and realizes how vital the journey can be through a marathon season. The reward is a playoff spot and the right to compete for an MLS Cup title.
More than a decade later, Carroll has learned a plethora of lessons.
“You understand what is needed at certain times a lot quicker,” he said. “Maybe when you’re younger and more youthful, you have more energy all day and do crazy things and make mistakes left and right and you can make up for them with that energy. Being able to read the game better and know what you need to do and do get others to do what they need to do better to get the best result possible. It’s a big difference.
“You want to push. You want to give it everything you possibly can, but you need to do that, yet need to do it in a smart way that allows you to go out and play at a high level and play positive instead of try to overwork yourself and work yourself into the ground.”
Carroll will likely don an MLS uniform for the 300th time Saturday night at RFK Stadium against one of his former clubs. It will be meaningful, but he’s focused solely on one thing – three points.
“That’s the most important part,” Carroll said. “If we keep winning, we’ll control things on our end. Sure, I want to play well against them. I think that’s natural. In the end, winning the game is what matters most to me.”
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Contact Union writer Andy Jasner at email@example.com