Troy Perkins is well ahead of schedule.
Many goalkeepers don't reach their prime until their 30s, but at 25 years old, Perkins already has begun to accumulate accolades. He followed being named MLS goalkeeper of the year last week with a victory in his first career playoff game Saturday, posting D.C. United's first shutout in 11 games and ending its three-game losing streak.
The MLS goalkeeper of the year earned a 1-0 road win against the New York Red Bulls to begin the two-game, total-goal series. In the return game at RFK Stadium on Sunday, United needs just a tie to advance to the Eastern Conference final.
"I think we are back in the right form and fighting for each other from the back to the front," Perkins said.
Perkins, now in his third full season with United, was named the top keeper for helping his club earn the best record (15-7-10) in the league. He led MLS with 15 wins.
"Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be the best at everything I do, and I will do everything I can to be the best within my power," Perkins said. "Looking four years down the road I want to be starting for the national team. I would like to have that chance to play in the World Cup and even go overseas and play."
This season the Evansville graduate ranked third in shutouts (eight), goals-against average (1.13) and saves (100). He led the voting for top honors ahead of the Colorado Rapids' Joe Cannon and the New England Revolution's Matt Reis.
"Troy is very focused. He takes everything seriously -- every play -- even in training he is very serious," United defender Bryan Namoff said. "He's always the first one in the weight room trying to better himself, and it's a credit to him that he has come so far in such a short period of time."
In 2004 Perkins was an unknown rookie earning $800 a month as United's third-string goalie. Still, he played 16 games that season when Nick Rimando was injured. In 2005 he played in just two games, but this season he landed the first-team job and has started in every game except two.
But Perkins is not entirely satisfied with his performance.
"I'm happy with starting but obviously not overwhelmed because I know I could do better," Perkins said. "Hopefully we can do well in the postseason and then look back on it."
And the 6-foot-2, 190 pound Perkins, who has a knack for dominating his box and is good on crosses, knows the areas where he needs to improve.
"Communication with my back line," Perkins said. "Playing simple and being more direct and [with] my distribution with long balls and seeing the play develop offensively."
Perkins said he was raised in a "blue-collar family." His mother grew up raising pigs and cattle on a farm, and his father built houses.
"My parents were farmers, and I grew up on a farm, so I witnessed the hard work that it takes to succeed in life," Perkins said. "My parents have done everything and sacrificed a lot so I could have this opportunity growing up, but the biggest motivator for me is myself."
And that intense motivation can sometimes wear on people.
"Growing up, people hated me because I never stopped," Perkins said. "My parents always preached that anything you want is attainable as long as you are willing to do it. I've had that mentality since I was a kid."
When he's not playing soccer Perkins spends time boating. He would like to own a boat someday, but for now he's only concerned with the Red Bulls.
"We have to show our dominance at home and stay tight as a unit," Perkins said.