Cal Men’s Soccer alumni Josh Saunders and Calen Carr prepare to face off for the 2011 MLS Cup championship

In what has been a banner year for University of California athletes now plying their trades in the ranks of professional sports, the upcoming MLS Cup Final will feature an intriguing match-up of former Golden Bears when Houston Dynamo forward Calen Carr takes aim at Los Angeles Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders. So far in 2011, Cal alumni have lifted championship trophies following the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, and the World Series. By the close of business Sunday evening at The Home Depot Center, the Phil Anschutz MLS Cup trophy will be added to that list.

Carr and Saunders not only both played collegiate soccer in Berkeley before entering MLS, they were teammates for two seasons for the Golden Bears. Carr was drafted in 2006 by the Chicago Fire, while Saunders spent time loaned out by MLS to then second division side the Portland Timbers from 2004 to 2008.

“Yeah, Josh was there his last two years, which were my first two years at Cal and we played together,” Carr said with a smile after Thursday’s Dynamo training session. “I would consider Josh a good friend.”

However, with a feverish push to help Houston qualify for the postseason, and then an intense two rounds of playoffs to earn the right to play for the MLS Cup, Carr has not had the time to connect with his former teammate.

“I haven’t talked to him yet, no,” revealed Carr. “I’m sure he is preparing and obviously we have been busy preparing with our group.”

While it has been many years since they together donned the Blue and Gold of California, Carr expressed pride in the Cal program when recalling his time sharing the field with the Galaxy ‘keeper. But the connections to Berkeley do not end with the pair, as the Dynamo forward was quick to point out that a third player will be representing Cal soccer in Sunday’s Final.

“There’s another Cal rookie, Hector Jimenez,” reminded Carr. “I always enjoy seeing former Cal players have success in the league, and there are three of us represented in MLS Cup so I think that’s something our program can be proud of.”

For Carr, another connection born from his time in the Bay Area has made this season even more fulfilling for the sixth year pro. While part of the Cal soccer program, the team would face off against the San Jose Earthquakes in an annual scrimmage that provided him a stage on which to audition for then head coach Dominic Kinnear.

“I spoke to him when I was in college about possibly leaving school early when he was the coach in San Jose,” said Carr about his now coach in Houston. “That was something I thought about, but I ended up staying at Cal.”

It took another seven years for the player and coach to finally join forces, as Kinnear brought in the former Fire forward prior to the first weekend of 2011 regular season. Carr expressed his pleasure at making the move to Houston, and getting that long overdue chance to play under the two-time MLS Cup coaching champion Kinnear.

“He was always a guy I have admired,” said Carr. “He’s been one of the most successful coaches in the history of the league so to be able to pay for a guy with that type of pedigree is a great opportunity.”

Carr will help lead the Dynamo offense Sunday evening, along side striking partner Brian Ching, against the vaunted back line of the Galaxy with hopes of earning his coach a third championship. And there to watch his endeavors at The Home Depot Center against the Los Angeles Galaxy will be a sizable contingent of his family and friends.

“Yeah, I have a big group coming down from the Bay Area,” revealed Carr, “some of my immediate family and also friends, so I should have about twenty people in the stadium out there in orange.”

If the Cal alum is able to find the back of the net for Houston on Sunday, at that time when the predominantly Los Angeles Galaxy backing ground will fall silent at seeing their team concede a goal, look and listen for that small pocket of orange making themselves heard to their hero.

(Photos in illustration courtesy of Joe Nuxoll and Kelley L. Cox, centerlinesoccer.com)

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