Brian Carroll's expectations were understandably tempered last weekend when he arrived at U.S. national team training camp near Boston. As a first-time invitee with only two practices to make an impression, he didn't think his chances of playing against Panama in a World Cup qualifier were very promising.

"I was just hoping to make the [game-day] roster, and then all of a sudden I found myself in the game," said Carroll, a third-year D.C. United defensive midfielder from West Springfield High. "It was just exciting and the game went by really fast."

Not only was Carroll included among the 18 eligible players, he started and played all 90 minutes during the 2-0 victory Wednesday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

The match wrapped up the U.S. team's 10-game final-round schedule and had no bearing on the Americans' previously secured World Cup berth. It did, however, serve as an important audition for several young players, such as Carroll, 24, and D.C. teammate Santino Quaranta, 21.

"For a first game in that setting, Brian did very well," U.S. Coach Bruce Arena said yesterday. "His positioning, his passing, his organization, we were pleased. He needs to be a little more vocal, but overall it was a good performance."

Following his brief stay with the U.S. squad, Carroll returned to Washington to prepare for United's regular season finale tonight at RFK Stadium against the Columbus Crew -- a last tuneup before the club's playoff opener at Chicago on Friday.

Despite playing in an international match three days ago, Carroll will likely be back in United's starting lineup this evening. After all, he is the only D.C. player to appear in all 31 games, he leads the club in minutes played (2,522) and is tied with Christian Gomez for most starts (29).

United Coach Peter Nowak watched the U.S.-Panama match on TV and said he thought Carroll "played a pretty good game. He really linked the plays and did what he does best -- break up plays, win balls and put pressure on the ball. I hope he will continue to work his way through the ranks because this is just the beginning. It's good to have this kind of opportunity."

Because of his inexperience, Carroll remains low on Arena's midfield depth chart. But with a major training camp scheduled for January and several friendly matches planned early next year in preparation for the World Cup, he might get another chance to prove himself.

The night before the Panama match, when he was told he would start, "I thought to myself, 'Okay, here we go,' " said Carroll, who played in support of attacking midfielders Clint Dempsey and Kyle Martino.

"I was surprised, happy, nervous, all at the same time, but once you work yourself into a game, the anxiety goes out the window and you just do what you would day to day. I think I did what I usually do out there -- work hard, try to win balls, keep possession and keep everyone organized."

United Notes: Argentine forward Lucio Filomeno is almost certain to make his debut tonight. "I would like to give him some time, but I don't know if it's going to be in the beginning or in the second half," Nowak said. . . . Alecko Eskandarian, out since June with post-concussion syndrome, took a notable step in his rehabilitation this week by participating in light outdoor workouts. However, he is not yet ready to join full-scale training. . . . Rookie forward Matt Nickell is out with a hamstring injury. . . . With a tie or victory Sunday morning against Columbus, United's reserve squad would win the inaugural league title and a $20,000 team bonus. Admission is free at the RFK training grounds at 21st and C streets NE.

"I was just hoping to make the roster," said Brian Carroll, who started for the U.S. on Wednesday.