Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Central grad Borfor "Buff" Carr has been a mainstay on the right wing for the Atlanta Silverbacks this season. Carr has scored one goal and assisted on another in the two games since Eric Wynalda took over as interim head coach for the team on July 2.
Most athletes in the United States will get into a sport because it's the most enjoyable, a great way to have fun outside or maybe because their parents played it. For Atlanta Silverbacks midfielder Borfor "Buff" Carr, it was mainly to keep his mind off the horrors of civil war in his home country of Liberia.
"For us growing up as kids, soccer was all we had to pass through the day or to deal with whatever issue we had going on," Carr said. "Just playing in the street and time passing by without you knowing. It was kind of an escape from reality."
Carr is on pace to top 1,000 minutes played this season just after halftime in tonight's game against the Puerto Rico Islanders. Those minutes have been tough for Carr and the rest of the team, which has struggled to a 2-5-9 record in last place so far.
But as the calendar turned to July, the club made a change that has so far paid dividends on the field for Carr. Three-time World Cup veteran Eric Wynalda was brought in as interim head coach and team advisor.
In Wynalda's first game, Carr assisted on a goal by Matt Horth for his first point of the season. In the second game last Saturday, Carr notched his first goal as a Silverback on a breakaway run that helped Atlanta to its second win of the year, a 2-0 victory over defending league champion Minnesota.
"Buff is the kind of player that I think just needed a little bit more confidence," Wynalda said. "Someone asked me ... what my best moment is so far since I've been here. That's when he ran 60 yards to give me a hug. And then I had to tell him to get off me because he was sweating so much and he got my shirt all wet.
"You can see it in his face. He's a totally rejuvenated player."
Tonight will be the first opportunity for home fans to see the team since the coaching change was made.
Raphael Cox, who often plays a similar role to Carr on the opposite side of the field for the Silverbacks, has been impressed with Carr's offensive skills this season.
"He's another dangerous attacker that we've added on this year," Cox said. "He adds a lot of speed down the flank, and he adds great ball skills, attacking in the final third, creating a lot of good chances for us to score."
Ciaran O'Brien plays in the central midfield for the Silverbacks and sees a bright future in the game for Carr.
"He has a lot of potential," O'Brien said. "He's a guy that any time in the game can create something because he has so much pace. I think Eric (Wynalda) is just trying to bring that out of him."
When he was a youngster, Carr looked up to his older brother and wanted to play soccer to be like him. Carr is the third child of eight, and he saw his brother become a popular guy with plenty of people hanging around him.
"He was just a popular guy who played soccer, and it was something I wanted to be a part of," Carr said.
His family stayed in Liberia until he was 3 years old, and then most of them fled to neighboring Ivory Coast. It was a struggle for the first five years because of the opinions the government had of Liberians -- they were seen as trouble.
"It was a battle staying there," Carr said. "It wasn't safe at night. It wasn't safe going to school at first. But with faith, we just kept God in our prayers. My mother is a very strong woman, and we were able to survive it until we had a chance to get out of that."
Most of Carr's family was able to leave Africa and head to the United States in 2000 when he was just entering his teenage years. But since his father worked for the Liberian government and stayed behind once the civil war started, he was unable to leave Ivory Coast with the rest of the family when the United Nations started getting people out.
After a year living in San Diego, Carr's family discovered relatives on his father's side living in the Atlanta area. So they moved across the country, and he has lived here most of the time since then. The Carrs were reunited in 2008 when Buff's father was able to move here.
With his natural talent, Carr spent all four years at Central on the varsity soccer team. He split time his freshman year between varsity and JV, but then spent the rest of the time only on varsity. Still, his game needed some refining.
"When I got there, it was a struggle a bit coming from Africa," he said. "There was so much talent. Everyone knew it, everyone saw it. But it was untrained talent from playing in the street. I was never coached."
Tom Bryan, Central's coach at the time, was a big help in many ways, Carr said.
"He helped out a lot. He didn't just play the role of a coach. He was a mentor also and he got me through dealing with everything out of soccer."
Carr credits a couple of key people with keeping his life on track after high school. One is Bruno Kalonji, who is now the assistant director at the Gwinnett Soccer Association and the head girls soccer coach at Georgia Perimeter College.
Carr tried out for Kalonji when he was coaching a team in the Atlanta District Amateur Soccer League. Kalonji coached at Shiloh and Meadowcreek during Carr's years at Central and remembered his quality of play from the opposing sideline.
"He was a big brother to me, a mentor, a trainer, a very good friend," Carr said. "He was always advising me, making sure my head was in the right place and I wasn't getting into any trouble."
Carr spent eight months training with Kalonji pretty much all day. With some contacts Kalonji had in Romania, he found Carr a tryout with CS Condordia Chiajna. After many levels of cuts from an initial pool of 80, Carr returned to Romania after renewing his visa in the U.S. None of the other guys trying out were around, so Carr asked someone on the team where they were.
"You're the only guy that made it," he was told.
As if he hadn't shown the team enough already, Carr's first touch in his first few minutes for the club was a goal.
Another person Carr credits with keeping him on the right track is Saba Rewald.
"She's very Christian, grew up in a Christian home," Carr said. "Her mother is the most amazing woman ever. She always wanted to talk to you about God and show you this path of who can help you with whatever."
Growing up, Carr said most of his life was soccer. He went to church, but he was just going through the motions. Rewald is who he said helped him get closer to God.
"Saba told me, 'When you're going through tough times like you're going through now, you've got to have a best friend,'" Carr said. "'It's not me, it's not my mother, it's not your mom, it's not Bruno. You've got to have a relationship with God.' That's something I thought I had, but I really didn't."A lot of the people Carr would hang around with in his younger days are people he says now he shouldn't have been near. Carr said he never did anything "evil" but it was just the wrong crowd to lead a good life.
"I was in an environment where it could've been wrong place, wrong time," he said.
But with Rewald's friendship, Carr kept on track to build a professional soccer career.
"She's just another person, kind of like Bruno, who opened something else, showed me another part of my life," Carr said. "I'm just blessed to have people who are just unbelievable. I appreciate them for everything they've been doing."
Carr returned to the United States and began coaching other players to make a living. He tried out for the Silverbacks last year and played four games with the reserves. This year he tried out with the senior club during the preseason and made the roster shortly after the season began.
He has been playing soccer all his life. Even now, it's what he can do to get away from his personal troubles.
"Growing up, for me soccer was more of an escape kind of thing to deal with whatever issue I had. Even now to this day, I still use it whenever I'm dealing with things emotionally ... Once I'm out there, nothing else runs through my mind."