When D.C. United took the field at RFK Stadium for the opening game of the 2004 MLS season, the bulk of the attention was on one young man. The spotlight shone as brightly as the sun that day on 14-year-old Freddy Adu, the child prodigy who entered the league with great expectations and even greater media attention.
Adu took the field as a substitute in the second half of that game on April 3, but another fresh face got the start and played the full 90 minutes. That young man was Brian Carroll.Carroll, 23, saw more playing time in United's 2-1 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes on that spring day than he did in 32 games for D.C. last year. In fact, the local product from Springfield, Va., saw more action in the first minute of that game than he did in all of 2003, as he didn't even see the field during his rookie season under coach Ray Hudson. But during the offseason, Carroll stayed active, including playing with the U.S. under-23 national team at the Olympic qualifying tournament in Mexico. Those games helped him gain the experience necessary to be able to handle the rigors or a long, difficult season in MLS. "We always knew Brian was a good player," said United midfielder and Carroll's partner in the center Ben Olsen. "But not until I started seeing him last offseason with the national team -- I think that's when he started emerging as a player to start in this league. It helped him to go through that whole process and to come into preseason fresh and fit and I think he took advantage of that time with the national team." After Hudson was relieved of his duties and Peter Nowak arrived in Washington for his first coaching experience, the slate was wiped clean for the returning players, and few have taken advantage of that fresh start more than Carroll. "I worked hard to improve my game from last year to this year," said Carroll. "Just getting that chance at the beginning of the year and being able to run with it and do well, I'm pretty proud of. I'm happy that I've gotten to this point to help the team in this way." Alecko Eskandarian, another young player who found his form this season after a disappointing rookie outing, says he is not at all surprised by Carroll's contributions. "I've known Brian since I was 14 years old and I always knew he was going to be a great player," said Eskandarian. "He's not the flashiest guy, he's not going to score a million goals or things like that, but you need a guy like Brian Carroll on your team. He does a lot of the dirty work that doesn't show up on the stats sheet. His best quality is that he's an honest person and an honest worker and every team needs a player like that." One of the main ways the 23-year-old Carroll has aided in United's success this season is with his consistency. He is one of only two players to see time in all of United's regular season matches this season, the other being Adu. Carroll started in 26 of 30 games and he has also played every minute of the Black-and-Red's playoff run to MLS Cup. In his defensive midfield role, Carroll doesn't often see a lot of action in front of the net. However, he was called upon as the crucial shooter in the sudden death round of penalty kicks in last Saturday's thrilling Eastern Conference Final against New England. He buried his shot in the upper left corner, which turned out to be the winning kick after goalkeeper Nick Rimando saved Clint Dempsey's attempt to tie the contest. It was sweet revenge for Carroll, who had earlier in the match been whistled for a penalty kick after an attempted cross struck his hand inside the D.C. box. "Unfortunately (the referee) did call it," said Carroll. "Looking at the replay, I guess it could have gone either way, but that's what happened. It's over and I tried to put it out of my mind. The opportunity arose and I just did the best that I could with it." And that is exactly what Carroll has done this season. He saw a chance to snag a spot in the D.C. United starting lineup and he accomplished that goal. Only one season removed from being forced to watch every game from the sidelines, Carroll will almost definitely be starting when United play for the Alan I. Rothenberg trophy this weekend. He will undoubtedly give nothing less than his best with that opportunity as well.