OBETZ, Ohio — Tournament play is different than the regular season. Just ask Columbus Crew midfielder Brian Carroll.
In his early years with D.C. United, he became tournament tough, something that is helping the Crew now.
Carroll and his current club are a third of the way through Group B play in the CONCACAF Champions and into the last eight games of the MLS season but put that aside Wednesday for a semifinal of the US Open Cup vs. D.C. United at RFK Stadium (the winner faces either Seattle Sounders FC or Chivas USA).
He joined United out of Wake Forest in 2003 and the next year started 26 regular-season matches and all four playoffs games to help the team to its fourth MLS Cup and entry into international play.
“It was fun because I was younger and I hadn’t had that experience yet, so being able to play in CONCACAF games, being able to play in other tournament games—[Copa] Sudamericana, etc.—was a good learning experience,” he said.
When the Crew played in the Champions League for the first time last year, the club relied on him for guidance.
“I think it’s carried over and helped me pass some information onto players here when we play some of those games,” he said.
Carroll said the United players have constant reminders of the team’s many accomplishments.
“Certainly in the offices upstairs at the stadium when you’re walking in the halls, you see goal celebration pictures on the wall,” he said. “You see the MLS Cup hoisted. You see trophies displayed in cases but then walking into the training facility there’s also pictures of players and winning moments.
“It was a disappointment when you didn’t go far in the playoffs. From my time at DC to here, it’s carried over.”
Carroll was selected by San Jose in the expansion draft after the 2007 despite being the part of two straight Supporters’ Shield teams. The Crew quickly acquired him from the Earthquakes for Kei Kamara.
Neither DC nor Columbus have been the same since.
The Crew won the Supporters’ Shield in 2008 and ’09 to run Carroll’s streak to four, and he added another MLS Cup with the Crew in 2008.
Meanwhile, United have failed to qualify for the postseason two years in a row. This season, they have the league’s worst record (4-15-3) and will most likely miss out on the playoffs again. That means Wednesday’s match is vital for United. Interim coach Ben Olsen rested several starters during Sunday’s 1-0 loss at Chivas USA in anticipation of the Open Cup semi with the Crew.
“I expect them to battle as hard as they possibly can,” Carroll said. “They’re playing at home. They’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain by being in the tournament and doing well.
"They have new leadership and guys are going to want to play hard to impress that leadership next year. I expect it will be a tough game no matter their record in the regular season.”