HOUSTON – Calen Carr’s 2012 MLS Cup final started with promise. It ended in agony.
The slender forward was the player of the first hour, running the channels, opening spaces and punctuating his first half with Houston’s only goal of the game, vaulting over the corner flag in what was set to be a iconic MLS Cup moment.
In a flash, things changed.
MLS Cup: Carr opens scoring against Galaxy
A split-second decision, routine during the course of a match, to challenge LA Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez for a ball in the box cost Carr both the game and what was initially thought to be his 2013 season.
Knees collided. Gonzalez escaped without a scratch, but Carr’s ACL was torn. To add insult to injury, Gonzalez went on to earn the game’s MVP honors, while Houston never could recover from the loss of their livewire.
“It killed our team morale,” strike partner Will Bruin told MLSsoccer.com, “… he was playing great and bringing a lot of intensity and when he went off it dropped.”
At the final whistle, the Dynamo forward was carried off the field by his teammates, not on their shoulders as the hero of the game, but in the arms of Colin Clark and athletic trainer Theron Enns with the knowledge that he’d just suffered yet another major injury and his team had come up short again on the big stage.
“You never want to step off the field in a championship game,” Carr told MLSsoccer.com. “Being forced to sit on the sidelines and watch my team battle, and then obviously LA ended up winning it, was a pretty difficult [moment].”
That was three months ago. Last week, things finally started to go in Carr’s favor as a follow-up visit revealed that his knee would not require a second surgery, providing the silver lining the 30-year-old has been searching for this winter.
It was a best-case scenario diagnosis and meant that there is significant hope that Carr will be back before 2013 ends.
And although things are looking up, the injury had an dampening effect on a season that was likely to see Carr establish himself in the starting XI if healthy.
He’d proved his worth in the playoffs for the second straight year. His play down the stretch and his partnership with Bruin had the feel of a permanent pairing, the two balancing each other and giving head coach Dominic Kinnear the kind of flexibility he wants.
Carr’s injury, however, changed those plans and was a key factor in the club seeking reinforcements. Without the eight-year veteran to man the spot next to Bruin, the club made a trade for Omar Cummings, who is expected back from his own injury soon.
The fact that Carr isn’t there to take part is just the latest chapter in a career that has, unfairly or not, been characterized by major injuries. Carr battled an ACL injury to his right knee in 2008 that cost the striker a year. Then, in 2011, a routine preseason header put him on the shelf for his first five months in Houston with concussion symptoms.
Carr had since built a nice place in Houston. That is, of course, until his latest injury prompted another major rehab and the inevitable thoughts that come with it.
“I think anytime you have a serious injury thoughts like that can creep into your mind,” Carr said when asked if he considered shutting it down for good. “But the fact that I’ve come back from these injuries each time has given me strength, as well as the support of my teammates and the organization. I know how to do this.”
That doesn’t make it any easier, even with his teammates doing their part to make sure Carr feels like a part of the team.
“I’ve been in [the training room] before and it’s really frustrating,” Brian Ching said. “You get down at times and don’t feel part of the team. That weighs on you quite a bit.”
The good news is that Carr’s stay in the training room will be shorter than expected. He’s off crutches and after receiving good news a week ago, Carr has his sights set on pulling on a Dynamo uniform later this season.
“He’s a guy you can count on and he understands the game,” Kinnear said. “When you have players like that, who’ll sacrifice for the team, they gain respect in the locker room and the coaches’ office.”
And when he is ready, Kinnear and his teammates will have a spot waiting on a team that, in Carr’s view, could be special. After all, he’s done this before.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.