BY ADAM SERRANO
CARSON, Calif. — Long derided for being injury prone, Calen Carr is used to be written off, but for Carr, redemption could be only 90 minutes away.
Since returning to from a concussion suffered in preseason while he was with the Chicago Fire, Carr has earned a starting spot alongside Dynamo captain Brian Ching, with his fast paced play adding a cutting edge to the Dynamo attack. Carr appears certain to start in Sunday's MLS Cup Final against the Los Angeles Galaxy, but it was not an easy road for the speedy striker.
Carr arrived in Houston amid speculation having been acquired in exchange for Dominic Oduro and despite suffering from a concussion. The Dynamo initially believed that Carr would return in a matter of weeks, but the severity of his concussion caused the speedy forward to miss two-thirds of the regular season. Having missed considerable playing time with various injuries over the last three years, Carr is not not taking his chance at the MLS Cup for granted.
"I think that as you get older as a player then you mature both on and off the field. More than anything that has played a role in the success that I'm enjoying," said Carr. "I've had some difficult injuries and I really value the time that I do have on the field and to be healthy. These opportunities don't come around much so I'm looking to make the most of it."
Injuries were not the only hardship of Carr's season after he was uprooted from the Fire, a team that he had played for since being drafted in 2006. Although the sting leaving Chicago was felt at first, Carr's transition was aided by a pair of old colleagues. Both Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear and Ching were familiar with Carr, who played at neighboring Cal while Kinnear and Ching were with the San Jose Earthquakes. During the forward's time with the Golden Bears, he grew close with Kinnear, who nearly convinced him to leave school early to join the Earthquakes.
It was this close bond between the two led Kinnear to stick by Carr through a concussion that caused Carr to worry that his playing career might be in jeopardy. Carr's concussion was found to be an inner ear disturbance, which affected both his balance and vision. Due to the severity, while his teammates played, Carr worked with numerous specialists to treat his symptoms. When his symptoms subsided in late-July, Carr returned to the practice field and began doning a rugby scrum cap on his head that renders him immediately recognizable on the field.
Carr was able to make his debut for the Dynamo in August and although playing time was spotty at first, he quickly became an integral part in the Houston attack. His finest moment coming when he scored the decisive second goal in the Dynamo's 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union in the first leg of Eastern Conference semifinal.
“To see him make it and be successful and for him to overcome the concussion problem that he had at the beginning of the year is a credit to him," said Ching of Carr. "He stuck with it, didn't get frustrated and just came in and did everything that he could."
In the MLS Cup Final, Carr will face a different test when he looks to help the Dynamo unlock a Galaxy defense that has been lauded as the finest in MLS. It is a defense that is anchored in part by his former college teammate, Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders.
On Sunday evening, in front of 20 of his family and friends, he'll look to use his cutting speed to help the Dynamo to their third MLS Cup title victory.lthough the Dynamo are considered longshots to win the title, Carr is not deterred by the underdog label, but relishes it.
"I don't know if you would have picked us to be here, but we're here now," said Carr. "We're going to have to fight for everything…that's how we got to this point so if there is any opportunity to find space behind the defense, we'll see what happens."