D.C. United's winning form has led to another call from U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena, as the former Black-and-Red boss has summoned another new face to next week's final World Cup qualification training camp.
Holding midfielder Brian Carroll has earned his first-ever call-up to the senior national side, and will join teammate Santino Quaranta and the rest of the U.S. squad after United's home match against the MetroStars on Saturday. The unexpected news adds another milestone to Carroll's remarkable ascension from benchwarming obscurity to everyday starter in less than two years.
"I think it's everybody's goal if they're growing up in America playing soccer," said an elated Carroll this week. "One, to maybe make it to the college ranks, and then beyond that, MLS, and beyond that, the U.S. National team. So I'm pretty excited to be given the opportunity. And really, that's all it is, it's an opportunity to come in and show what you have."
After an impressive career at Wake Forest University and extended stints with the U-20 and U-23 youth national teams, Carroll saw little action as a rookie under Ray Hudson's veteran-oriented approach with D.C. United in 2003. But last year, new coach Peter Nowak put his faith in the Springfield, Va., native from the start, and since then United fans have watched as his game continues to grow and mature.
Carroll has not forgotten that trust, as he was quick to express to Nowak when the former Polish international congratulated him on the call-up.
"I just said, 'Thanks for giving me the chance early on last season,'" Carroll said.
While his first duty is providing defensive cover for D.C.'s three-man back line, Carroll's vision has steadily improved under Nowak, enabling him to distribute long passes from a deep-lying position to change the angle of play, akin to the pivote concept from Spanish soccer. Carroll has also ventured into the attack more often this season, handing out three assists and notching his first career goal in an August win against Chicago.
All the while, he has had to justify his spot in the first 11 week after week, thanks to United's deep corps of defensive midfielders. Nowak's offseason acquisition of Clyde Simms and the promising development of rookie Shawn Kuykendall seem to have lit a fire underneath Carroll, though he prefers to credit his team's overall success.
"Whenever there's competition for a position, it brings your best out," said Carroll, "but also with winning the (MLS) Cup last year, playing that extra amount of time, I think that really gave me a lot more game experience. It got me playing for as long as possible and as many games as possible.
"And then because of winning it last year, we were able to play in numerous tournaments outside the regular MLS season, which just gives you greater experience at the international level. I think that's contributed to better performances in MLS games."
With veterans like Claudio Reyna, Pablo Mastroeni and Chris Armas already in line for 2006 World Cup roster spots, it seems likely that Arena is eyeing Carroll for the more distant future, though spending time in the Nats camp can only boost the 24-year-old's confidence going into the MLS postseason.
He will miss just four days of club practice and none of D.C.'s remaining matches, but if Carroll makes a strong impression on Arena and his staff, he could even see playing time during the U.S.-Panama match in Foxborough, Mass., on Wednesday night. For now, however, he's content to listen and learn.
"I've never been in this situation before, so I'm just going to go in and do the things that I do well, play according to how they want me to and learn from what they tell me in the practices leading up to the game," said Carroll. "If given the opportunity during the game, make the best of it. If not, it will have been an amazing experience anyway."
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.