The State News: How long have you been playing soccer?
Zach Carroll: I started playing when I was about four years old, I started in the AYSO program. My first ever club team was the Genesee Star (Soccer Club) and then from there I moved to Vardar (Soccer Club) when I was about 11 and then I played Vardar the rest of my club career. I went to Grand Blanc High School, I was on varsity all four years and I started all four years.
SN: Is playing professional something that drove you when you were younger?
ZC: It was always a dream of mine and then, probably not until about junior or senior year of high school did I think it really could be possible. Then going into college, that was my goal going into college, that’s what I wanted to do after my time in college.
SN: What brought you to MSU?
ZC: Well, actually, I went to the University of Virginia my first two years and then transferred in to Michigan State going into my junior year, and it’s just the perfect fit for me. I knew Damon (Rensing) from when I was first getting recruited and, you know, Michigan State really made me feel at home and I just thought it was the perfect place to go.
SN: Why Virginia originally?
ZC: I was actually committed to (University of) Michigan and then a bunch of stuff happened to their team, and so I decommitted from there and that’s when Virginia and North Carolina were really recruiting me hard. I ended up choosing Virginia late my junior year, or maybe even early my senior year of high school. From there, I went down there and I loved the school, but it just wasn’t the right fit for me and that’s when I decided to try and go somewhere else and, you know, Michigan State was just the perfect place for me and it’s the only place I wanted to go.
SN: What made you want to be a defender?
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ZC: It came about later on. I actually played goalie, and I was actually pretty good at goalie, but just for some reason it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I moved to the field probably when I was about 13, when I really started playing in the field. I started out at like forward and center (midfield) and then, probably when I was 14 or 15, is when I moved back to center defense.
SN: What was your experience at MSU like?
ZC: It’s always hard to transfer schools, but going into Michigan State I already knew the guys on the team and knew the coaches there, and Michigan State was just a very family-oriented team, everyone was very good friends with everyone, coaches were very friendly and you felt like you could go and talk to them about anything. Playing-wise, my junior year we had that great run to the Elite Eight and then followed up with another good year, all Big Ten my senior year. So, Michigan State was an awesome experience for me and I got to know and have grown very strong relationships with guys that, down the road, I’ll still be talking to.
SN: What did you study while at MSU and did you finish your degree?
ZC: I studied philosophy. I wasn’t able to graduate, I still have some credits to go. I’m going to try to get into some online classes and then, hopefully when there’s time to, come back and pick up some classes on campus as well.
SN: What was the pre-draft and draft process like for you?
ZC: It was honestly just a whirlwind. It was like going from this thing to the next thing, and there really was no time to breathe. I was doing some one-on-one training with a guy named Aaron Byrd, and from there I went and did a combine in Columbus for the Columbus Crew, and then after that I did a combine in Las Vegas with the (Seattle) Sounders and then after that, went down to the MLS combine and then from there was straight to the draft. Then about a week after I got drafted, I was on a plane going to preseason — so there was no down time. It was kind of one thing after the next.
SN: When all your hard work had payed off, how great of a feeling (was it) to be drafted?
ZC: It was just a dream come true. Like I said, when you’re younger, you always dream of being on the top stage and playing pro ball, and to get drafted and have it come to fruition, it was just a dream come true. I attended the draft, so I was there for it, but a lot of guys chose not to do it. I brought my parents with me, and they’ve put so much into me and my soccer career as well so the draft wasn’t only for me, it was for them, too and for them to see it come full circle as well. Just having them there, it was the best feeling in the world.
SN: What has your MLS experience been like so far?
ZC: It’s been a great one. I came to a great team in the Red Bulls and the guys on the team are awesome. It’s just one of those things where you know, you come in realizing that you’re a rookie and you’ve just got to work yourself and work as hard as you can. One day your time will come and it’s all about making the most out of your opportunities. I haven’t gotten any game experience with the first team, but I have played in games for Red Bulls II, USL team. I have been on the bench for, I was in the game day roster for the Montreal Impact game.
SN: How much faster is the professional game from college?
ZC: It is two totally different things. Everyone's touches are exactly where they want them to be and you have to be mentally focused 110 percent of the time. You can never take a break, and I think that’s been the biggest difference for me, is just always having to be on your toes, mentally prepared. It’s definitely been a step up, but it is definitely one that I have taken full-heartedly and I think it can only go up from here.
SN: Mentor growing up?
ZC: I think definitely my parents, both of them have really helped me get here. And then I think also Aaron Byrd. He’s been a huge, huge person in my life getting me where I wanted to be, so I would say those three people. (Byrd) was kind of a coach. He runs his own kind of business with Next Level Training, and so I would go and do one-on-one trainings with him and also do group sessions with him. He has been with me now for the past two or three years and he’s definitely helped me grow as a player.
SN: What is next for you?
ZC: Just keep climbing the ladder, keep working towards always being on the roster and then hopefully after that find a place on the field and be a starter for an MLS team. That’s just the progression I hope happens and I’m going to just keep working towards that. I grew up idolizing guys like (Derek) Jeter and Steve Yzerman and guys who stick with one team their whole life. That’s definitely a dream of mine, to stay there and retire with the team that drafted you. So, that’s what I’m hoping for, but I know the MLS is a business and sometimes it just doesn’t work out the way you want it to, but I’d love to stay in New York my whole career.
SN: What do you miss about college?
ZC: I would say just being with some of your best friends that you have gotten to know and gotten real close with. Me, I lived with two other guys my junior year and then one other guy my senior year, and it’s always kind of nice when you go back to your apartment or your house and you’re just kind of hanging out with your buddies — that’s probably what I miss the most.
SN: What’s the plan for (you) after soccer?
ZC: I think coaching would definitely be a possibility. I have looked into that and also, I love working with younger kids, so I think maybe even if it’s not coaching, maybe it’s teaching or something like that. Along the lines, I think either of those options is something I would really like to do.
SN: If you could be doing anything besides soccer, what would it be?
ZC: If I wasn’t playing soccer, I would hopefully be kind of in the (front) office of a soccer team or maybe like a hockey team. I’m a huge Red Wings fan, and so I think maybe working in a (front) office for like an NHL team or an MLS team would probably be what I want to do.
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