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Season Review: Brian Carroll

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Editor’s note: At the end of the first two Philadelphia Union seasons, we posted a series of end of the season reviews of every Union player. Over the next several weeks PSP continues with a review of the 2012 season.

While it’s likely true of many Union players, 2012 has to be seen as the nadir of Brian Carroll’s career. I’m not talking about his performances, which have been as steady as ever, but about the result. Carroll, in his previous nine seasons, had never missed the postseason… until now. That disappointment is surely tempered by all the success Carroll has already seen, but it is a shame that the rest of the Union team—not to mention the coaching staff—were unable to keep such a winner’s streak alive.

Carroll is a somewhat limited player, but what he does, he does very well. Reviewing him is almost silly, because you know exactly what you get, week in, week out, and in a young team, that consistency is worth a great deal.

High Point

Carroll is the sort of player for whom you know he’s had a good game when you don’t notice him. He’s a defensive midfielder in the traditional mold, cleaning up other people’s messes and stopping attacks before they start. If you notice him, it means the other team had too much of the ball in dangerous places, or Carroll screwed up.

As such, the highlight we have to mention is from the Union’s 1–1 tie with DC on August 19, where Carroll scored the opening goal after a deflection from a Michael Farfan shot. That game was notable primarily for Mark Geiger’s flamboyant style of refereeing, with two disallowed United goals and three players sent off in the final ten minutes. Carroll has only scored six goals in his whole career, so any goal, especially in such electric circumstances, deserves mention.

Low Point

Carroll functions best as a lone DM, but was saddled with a partner, generally Michael Lahoud, for much of the season, and the result often was a decrease in the level of Carroll’s performance. That said, arguably his worst game came when playing as he prefers. In the October 26 loss to Sporting Kansas City, Carroll was largely at fault for KC’s winner, allowing Kei Kamara past him far too easily. Blame late-season fatigue, or a lack of desire at the end of a lost season (unlikely, given his professionalism), but Carroll won’t look back with fondness on that day.


Carroll’s strengths, primarily, are his motor and his field sense. Given a clear directive, he covers an incredible amount of ground, clogging passing lanes, making tackles, and generally just getting in the way of opposing teams as they attack—often preventing them from starting a coherent attack at all. Gilberto Silva, the Brazilian defensive midfielder, was nicknamed “the Invisible Wall” when he played for Arsenal in the UK. Carroll could be called the same thing.


Carroll’s weakness is his lack of versatility. He is what he is, which is to say a defensive midfielder, emphasis on defensive. He has virtually no offensive skills (see six goals and fifteen assists in ten years), and is much less effective at doing his defensive job when pushed outside of his comfort zone. He also can’t play any other positions.


Carroll’s future with the team is uncertain, and may depend a great deal on Amobi Okugo. If Okugo remains at center back next season, Carroll’s place as a starter is likely assured. If Okugo returns to midfield, suddenly there is a defensive midfield logjam. Okugo is a better athlete than Carroll, has more of an offensive arsenal, and is surely a stalwart of the Union’s future, whether in defense or midfield. Furthermore, as a ten-year veteran, Carroll is one of the highest earners on the team. If the question becomes which two of the three DMs on the team do we keep—from Okugo, Lahoud, and Carroll—one thinks Okugo’s potential and Lahoud’s versatility win out over Carroll’s consistency and leadership.

I for one hope that does not come to pass. Carroll’s presence on the field and in the locker room has been invaluable these past two seasons, and losing him now would be a mistake. While he may not retain his first-choice status with Okugo on the rise, he certainly still has much to offer. Let’s hope next season brings him back to the playoffs… in a Union shirt.

Stat chart legend:
POS: Position; GP: Games Played; GS: Games Started; MINS: Minutes; PA: Passes Attempted; PC: Passes Completed; P%: Passing Accuracy Percentage; G: Goals; A: Assists; SOG: Shots on Goal; SOG/S%: Percentage of Shots that are on Goal; G/SOG%: Percentage of Shots on Goal Converted; SC%: Scoring Percentage; G/90min: Goals per 90 minutes; Hm G: Home Goals; Rd G: Road Goals; FC: Fouls Committed; FS: Fouls Suffered; YC: Yellow Cards; RC: Red Cards


  1. James "4-3-3" Forever says:

    I love what he has done for us, but next year is more about what Okugo can do for us than what Carrol can. I really think Okugo has all the tools to be a true #1 box to box all star midfielder. The kind of player to put at the “1” in a 4-1-x-x and let him do his thing.
    The fact that Okugo has twice the offensive skill set as Carrol, and the fact that leaving Okuo alone opens up another midfielder slot so we aren’t stuck with an empty bucket, are only bonuses.
    Though, I would be happy to have him back if he is ok being a bench player. He would be the perfect sub to bring in when we have a lead, or to start when going up a particularity tough offensive team.

  2. The Black Hand says:

    I think Carroll is a decent player that will be picked up and utilized by another club. As for the U, I think it would be best to move on from Carroll. As James mentioned, Okugo brings more quality to the position and is better for the club, moving forward. We have to costruct a club around what little talent we have, allowing us to better determine our needs. Sticking with Carroll would be a mistake.

  3. Richie The Limey says:

    If he goes there will be a HUGE hole in front of the back four. I feel sure that the Union’s coaching staff value his worth higher than most fans do.

    Every team needs a Brian Carroll and as Jeremy said so well (nice article, by the way) you really shouldn’t notice him. He would fall under the category of you don’t know what you have until it’s gone – except most folk wouldn’t miss BC and instead would moan about other players messing up – so I for one, hope that he stays with our very young team.

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