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Raves: Brian Carroll

(Photo: Paul Rudderow)

Editor’s note: At the end of the 2010 season, we posted a series of “Raves” about some of our favorite Philadelphia players. They need not be the team’s best players, but they’re guys and gals we like. Over the next two weeks, we continue the series again with some of the PSP contributors favorite players of 2011.

“The prima donna and the tenor, the contralto and the basso, get all the best music and do all the spectacular things, but you cannot manage the plot without Fifth Business! It is not spectacular, but it is a good line of work, I can tell you, and those who play it, sometimes have a career that outlasts the golden voices.”

The character Liesl in Robertson Davies’ seminal work, Fifth Businessis using an operatic model as a metaphor to describe the protagonist’s role in life. But could she also be talking about the role of the holding midfield player?

“This is one of the cruelties of the theatre of life; we all think of ourselves as stars and rarely recognize it when we are indeed mere supporting characters or even supernumeraries.”

The number seven shirt is usually reserved for speedy wingers and flashy wide men—your Cristiano Ronaldos and David Beckhams of the world. For the Philadelphia Union, the number seven shirt is graced by holding midfielder, Brian Carroll. Brian is neither overtly speedy nor exceptionally flashy. He’s just a damn fine defensive midfielder. One might be tempted to say…elegant.

Revolutionized by Claude Makelele for Real Madrid, the holding midfield role, designed to protect the back four, break up play in midfield, retain possession, and begin attacks from deep (a la a regista); like Fifth Business, has no counterpart. Yet it’s as a crucial a role as you’ll find in a field player.

Considering the Philadelphia Union had the second best defensive record in MLS (only the Galaxy allowed fewer goals) and allowed the least number of shots on goal (they set a new MLS record), Brian Carroll deserves loads of credit.

Never flashy and rarely in the headlines (apart from his Goal of the Week nomination against Seattle), Brian makes his living by not being noticed. That’s for a very obvious reason: he rarely gives the ball away. While Le Toux and Mondragon, Torres and Williams wow the PPL faithful with their stunning strikes, miraculous saves, and lung-busting runs, Brian does the job to allow those fine men to do theirs. Brian makes the pass just before Justin Mapp opens up a defense. He wins the tackle right before a counter-attack breaks. He harries a shooter into dribbling a weak effort right into the waiting arms of Mondragon. He does the little things to make others look good. Unglamorous work at times, but so crucial to a team’s success.

No, droves of fans won’t be lining up outside Angelo’s Soccer Corner to emblazon their shirts with Brian’s No. 7 but they should be because he’s definitely a player to rave about.

(Disclaimer: this rave may be influenced in some small way by the fact that the author also plays holding midfielder.)

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