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Season Review: Brian Carroll

Featured image: Paul Rudderow

Editor’s note: At the end of the 2010 season, we posted a series of season reviews of every Philadelphia Union player. Over the next several weeks PSP continues with a review of the 2011 season.

A striker can go missing for long stretches, only to pop up and score with a single touch. So too can attacking midfielders and wingers select the appropriate times to insert themselves into the action. The same cannot be said for defensive midfielders who must be constantly vigilant in their efforts to win back the ball, clog opponents’ passing lanes, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. While the best at this position rarely make the headlines, they are consistently in the middle of the action.

When Brian Carroll arrived in Philadelphia from the Columbus Crew, much was made of the fact that the 30-year-old midfielder had helped lead his team to the playoffs in each of his previous eight seasons in MLS. With Stefani Miglioranzi, Andrew Jacobson, Amobi Okugo and Kyle Nakazawa all jockeying for the holding role in 2010, bringing in a consistent performer like Carroll represented a positive step, along with the acquisitions of Frayd Mondragon and Carlos Valdes, towards stiffening the defense for 2011.

And that is exactly what he did. At times playing almost as a third centerback, Carroll occupied himself with the opposition’s most creative central midfield playmakers. While it removed a body from the attack, the Union’s goal differential jumped from -14 in 2010 to +8 in 2011. There a great number of factors at play in this but Carroll’s aggressive, pressing defense cannot be overlooked. Especially on a team bursting with young attacking talent, deploying Carroll as a veteran presence to anchor the midfield paid dividends in the Union’s playoff run.

High Point

The Union’s road victory over Seattle on October 8 was memorable for a number of reasons. Going across the country and putting together a complete performance against one of the league’s growing powers showed the Union’s growth and improved quality. At a time when the playoff picture remained murky, earning three road points was invaluable.

For Brian Carroll there was the added sweetness of tallying his first goal of the season on a full field 1–2 combination with Sebastien Le Toux that put the game to bed. Carroll, in typical fashion, had won the ball to begin the break but finding acres of space in front of him he surged forward. With no other options, Le Toux threaded a perfectly weighted pass through to Carroll whose first touch appeared to take him wide of the cage only for the Union man to score smartly, striking beyond Kasey Keller and inside the far post.

Low Point

Missing consecutive road losses at Columbus and Salt Lake late in the season. For a player like Carroll whose effort always goes towards securing clean sheets and victories for his team, being confined to the sidelines with a right foot contusion would have been agony, especially with the team losing both ties.


Ball winning. Which is exactly what it should be for a defensive midfield player. Carroll has made a home for himself directly in front of Carlos Valdes and Danny Califf and from this position he is able to cut down on the traffic entering the Union penalty area while also minimizing dangerous shots from distance. While the center of the pitch is his comfort zone, he has the range and quickness to step out and pressure the flanks without becoming exposed.


Passing and composure on the ball. The modern holding midfielder is not simply a ball winner. Once possession has been regained, that player should factor prominently in the buildup, anchoring the midfield with short, simple passes and the occasional switching of fields. Carroll does not currently possess the ball skills to fill this role. Fans screamed and yelled at Califf and Valdes when the duo pumped the ball aimlessly up the pitch, but with Carroll failing to show himself as a viable outlet, the centerback pairing were often left with no other option. Both Amobi Okugo and Michael Farfan, when he was asked to play in that role, did well to work back and provide an option for their defenders, starting to build play from the back without the requirement of the long ball. Improvement in this category would make Carroll into an elite MLS midfielder, rather than just a pure ball winner.


Considering the drastic defensive improvement the Union made between 2010 and 2011, and the fact that he is a Nowak favorite, Brian Carroll’s position with the Union seems secure entering 2012. Additionally, with Okugo figuring to miss time with the Olympic team, the Union midfield should remain Brian Carroll’s to command.

And command it he must. With so much youth in the midfield and attack, the question remains: who will step up as the vocal leader for the front six.

Alongside Faryd Mondragon, both Califf and Valdes have leadership covered in the back. But up front, who will push young players like Mwanga, McInerney, Martinez, Michael Farfan and Torres? Both Sebastien Le Toux and Brian Carroll are players who already lead by example, but one (or preferably both) must take the reins, guiding and leading their younger teammates as the Union continue to push their way to the top of the MLS table.

*Stat chart legend:
POS: Position; GP: Games Played; GS: Games Started; MINS: Minutes; PA: Passes Attempted; PC: Passes Completed; P%: Passing Accuracy Percentage; SHTS: Shots Faced; SV: Saves; GA: Goals Allowed; GAA: Goals Allowed Average; PKG/A: Penalty Goals/Attempted; W; Wins; L: Losses; T: Ties; ShO: Shutouts; W%: Win Percentage; SV%: Save Percentage; FC: Fouls Committed; FS: Fouls Suffered; YC: Yellow Cards; RC: Red Cards

One Comment

  1. For me, Carroll was the best Union player this season. Never received the proper credit, but I believe he was just as responsible for the Union’s defensive improvement as anyone on the team. I never found myself yelling or thinking “what the hell is he doing?” at any point this season. My only qualm with him is I wish he was more vocal. There is a biased side of me that wants an angry, yelling, crazy, pitbull—let me stop. I want a Union Gattuso and Carroll is him minus the nutcase, which I can settle for I guess.

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