- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 1, 2004

Other than defender David Stokes, no player on D.C. United’s roster is happier to see former coach Ray Hudson gone than midfielder Brian Carroll.

Last season Carroll did not play one minute of United’s 32 Major League Soccer matches, including playoffs. His rookie year was reduced to three U.S. Open Cup games against minor league competition and two meaningless international exhibitions.

Now coach Peter Nowak has called him United’s best player during the club’s three-game preseason Carolina Challenge Cup and probably will start Carroll as a defensive midfielder in Saturday’s season opener against the MSL defending champion San Jose Earthquakes at RFK Stadium.

“Last year was a learning experience that I didn’t really want to go through, but since I did I’m a stronger for it, and now it just makes me appreciate what I’ve been able to accomplish so far this year,” Carroll said. “It’s even more of a relief to just know that I’ve at least played in the preseason and have confidence and experience going into the MLS season that I didn’t have last year.”

Carroll and Stokes were the only United players who did not get into a league match last season. Carroll is a local (West Springfield High School) player that United selected out of Wake Forest with the first pick of the second round (11th overall) in last year’s MLS SuperDraft.

“I’m just relieved to have the coaches that we have this year, and I’m just looking forward to putting everything that I have out there all the time,” Carroll said.

What Nowak has done is identify Carroll’s best position. At Wake, Carroll was an All-American candidate as a defensive midfielder. Yet Hudson and U.S. Olympic coach Glenn “Mooch” Myernick believed Carroll was better suited as a wide midfielder because of his speed. Nowak has brought Carroll back to the middle, where the 22-year-old has performed well.

“I felt really comfortable at defensive mid at Wake Forest and all of growing up,” Carroll said. “One camp with the national team, they put me out wide and I did well and I started scoring goals, so they kept me out there. I got a little more accustomed to that position, and this year they kind of moved me around a little bit and I started playing better on the inside than on the outside.”

The 5-foot-10, 152-pound Carroll isn’t a physical defensive midfielder who will put a body on the ball but he reads the game well and uses his vision and quickness to cut off passing lanes by pouncing on secondary balls.

With his strong passing skills, Carroll might allow midfielder Dema Kovalenko to play a more attacking role this season, something he is better suited for. Despite scoring a co-team high six goals last season, Kovalenko’s first job was as a holding midfielder.

“I like it better and I still come back defensively, but I’m just a little closer to the goal,” Kovalenko said. “[Carroll’s] good there. He’s good inside for us. He plays simple. He gets the ball and is a smart player.”

A good portion of Carroll’s playing time last season came with the U.S. Under-23 team. He also was loaned to the A-League’s Richmond Kickers for eight games to get in some matches.

Stokes, who was loaned to the A-League’s Virginia Beach Mariners, said being sent to the minor leagues for development was a waste of time.

“Being sent down to the A-League didn’t help a lot with confidence, because you miss out on getting to watch the games and just being in the environment,” Stokes said.

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