GUADALAJARA, Mexico – It's difficult to imagine a faster, steeper rise to an international call-up than what former Cal FC goalkeeper Derby Carrillo has experienced in 2012.
Nine months ago, the 24-year-old, 6-foot-4 shot-stopper took to the road and headed back across the United States from New York to his native Los Angeles. His season with New York FC had ended in late August and there was no prospect of a new contract. Options to sign elsewhere were non-existent.
“I wanted to get a trial with a MLS team or to get a window to open up so that I could try to keep playing, but nothing was opening up,” Carrillo – who did trial with the Seattle Sounders back in 2010 – told MLSsoccer.com by phone from El Salvador.
Before the 2,500-mile trip back from the Big Apple last November, Carrillo had spent the previous three months dividing his time between helping as a goalkeeper coach at St. John's University – his alma mater – and providing the color commentary on a webcast of the team's games.
He stuck around New York, in his words, “because I had a lease to finish out.”
Things could not be more different today. Carrillo is dreaming of playing in Brazil 2014, and it isn't a delusion. He received his first call-up last week to El Salvador's full national team for its World Cup qualifiers against Guyana on Sept. 7 and 11.
The call came after impressing in just four games for Santa Tecla, a Salvadoran club that had been promoted to the top division the previous season on a shoestring budget, small even by Salvadoran standards.
Carrillo signed for the club in mid-July, but his big break came with Cal FC, for whom he is now somewhat of a figurehead. Back in March, Carrillo's career remained in limbo until his agent, Yiannis Kouloris, mentioned that Eric Wynalda was trying to get a group of players together for a run at the US Open Cup.
“I went down to practice, Eric saw me, he was shooting at me and everything and we just clicked,” explained Carrillo. “I showed up to every practice after that and the rest is history.”
In a now-familiar story, Cal FC went on to make Open Cup history by securing a famous 1-0 victory against Portland Timbers in the third round on May 29. Carrillo played his part in that victory, making a couple of key saves to keep Portland scoreless.
Carrillo's showing in the Open Cup garnered interest from clubs in El Salvador, as well as that country's national federation, and he headed south with the express mission of getting into La Selecta. Two other Americans of Salvadoran descent – Arturo Alvarez and Steve Purdy – blazed that trail. And now Carrillo has followed their lead.
The tall goalkeeper is appreciative for what Cal FC did for his career and called club co-owner Michael Friedman on hearing about his El Salvador call-up.
“Derby is living the dream that he has wanted,” Friedman told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Thursday. “It's insane. I'm really proud of him. Cal FC was a stepping stone for these players. We were able to be a platform so they could be seen.”
Rumors around the time of Cal FC's Open Cup run suggested that more players would head south to try their luck, but, so far, only Carrillo and Eder Arreola have signed for teams in Latin America.
Arreola, who is now playing for Delfines del Carmen in Mexico's third division, sees Carrillo's rise to an international player as both an inspiration to himself and others and a well-deserved reward for plain hard work.
“Derby is the example to follow, I know he will make us proud,” explained Arreola. “I truly believe it's a huge deal that the former Cal FC goalie is getting this opportunity because it shows that there are some of us players that were part of that Cal FC team that are good enough to reach that level.”
Friedman says he is in a transition phase with Cal FC at present and is hoping his team will be able to make an impact in next season's Open Cup as well. One thing that he will not have a problem with is finding players. Friedman has been inundated with requests from young players wanting a trial at his club.
Stories like those of Carrillo will no doubt increase requests even more, but for the American of Salvadoran and Guatemalan descent, that window he was looking out when he decided to move back to Los Angeles from New York is very much open.
“It's been an interesting few months and years,” reflected Carrillo. “It's been fun. Up and down, you could say, but I'm very happy, very blessed.”
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.