Season Reviews

Season review: Brian Carroll

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Editor’s note: PSP continues its annual tradition of producing season reviews for each Union player. We’ll run one review per weekday between now and Thanksgiving.

Often in sports, a franchise and its captain take on similar personalities. Maybe that’s the whole point of the captain, to instill a belief system that carries the day. You can say this is true of Philadelphia Union and Brian Carroll — a team and a guy that have often produced more on the pitch than their talent would typically suggest, but also when it comes right down to it, didn’t quite have what it took to get the job done.

Carroll is one of the few players on the Union to have experienced the ultimate success in Major League Soccer (with DC United under Peter Nowak). He is also one of the longest tenured players remaining on the team, calling PPL Park his home since the team’s lone playoff year in 2011. It’s no wonder that John Hackworth handed the captain’s armband to the Virginia native.

A tireless defender, and a guy who would seemingly try to command the midfield all on his own if allowed to, Carroll defines the hard-working Union.

But what the Union brought in tenacity and grit, they often lacked in creativity and skill. It was another parallel between the team and its consistent defensive midfielder. Hackworth never produced a regular season lineup in 2013 without Carroll when he was available. His lone omission was due to a suspension in the final match of the season. He was a near constant, and it showed.

It’s tough to make it as a pure defensive midfielder in MLS anymore. For every Brian Carroll, you have three Oriol Rosells — guys who both dig out balls from runners in the midfield and play cultured passes that move the attack ahead. Most of the forward passes I remember this season from Brian Carroll were long balls with little chance of completion.

If Carroll had been paired with Roger Torres, Michael Farfan, or even Kleberson most of the time, the Union midfield may have sorted out its problems. But Hackworth was committed to a bucket midfield with Keon Daniel as his partner. Daniel received 17 starts next to Carroll, and they struggled to be that offensive tandem that is necessary to provide attacking verve. The midfield faltered.

But somehow, some way, the Union fought through it. Literally. Red cards and surprise goals on the counter gave the Union a shot in the end to sneak into the playoffs.

It wasn’t enough. And now fans are wondering if Carroll is the odd man out in a midfield that begs for Amobi Okugo.

Carroll 2013 statsHigh Point

On June 5th, Brian Carroll picked up the opening goal against the visiting Columbus Crew on a deflection and earned Man of the Match honors after the decisive 3-0 victory. At the time, we wondered if this was the performance that would turn his season around. Up to that point, he was struggling to find his way with Daniel as his partner in midfield. The Union followed up that 3-0 win with another against the Red Bulls, but the Union only nabbed back-to-back victories once more after that.

Low Point

The only match that truly stands out is his final match of 2013, the bitter 2-1 defeat at the hands of the fading Impact. It was a game where Carroll should have displayed the leadership that Hackworth entrusted to him entering the season. Instead, he picked up a throwaway yellow, knowing full well a caution would disqualify him from the crucial final match against Sporting KC. The Union eventually lost the game, all but ending their chances to squeak in ahead of Montreal.

Strengths

It’s tough to find a defensive midfielder in MLS who isn’t a solid defender, and Carroll is typically that, working his tail off to nip attacks in the bud. He also seems to be a calming influence at times — he’s not much of an outspoken guy, but he certainly plays his style and imparts that upon his teammates.

Weaknesses

While the previous paragraph details a quality of leadership, it is easy to wonder if this team of youngsters could have used a more vocal, emphatic leader on the pitch. It’s clear that Carroll is not the guy who is going to scream at teammates or fervently lobby a referee about an undeserving card.

Carroll’s distribution deficiencies have been well-documented. Why it took a suspension to leave Carroll on the bench is a mystery to many Union fans. Tactically, the team too often became hamstrung with what amounts to a fifth defender.

Outlook

This offseason will be an interesting one for the Union. All the talk of resources and salary freedom means the potential to upgrade at a few positions. The Union could upgrade at central midfield simply by allowing Okugo to slide forward to his natural position. That would mean acquiring a new center back and likely parting ways with Carroll.

That doesn’t seem to be the way Hackworth rolls, though. He is a guy who commits to an idea and to players. Regardless, Carroll’s place in the team will be a crucial offseason decision, one that could be the difference between another sixth or seventh place finish and the potential to challenge in a weak Eastern Conference.

3 Comments

  1. Southside Johnny says:

    Fair enough.

  2. James Lockerbie says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Maybe he can stay with the team and if he does lets hope Hackworth can find an offensive partner to be the linchpin between the two sides of the field. LIke conor casey maybe he could be a little stronger if he had sometime off once in a while

  3. A late sub in a blowout at best. His best years are far far behind him. Okugo or Williams deserves the “C” next year. If the Union thinks his experience would be helpful to the youth, then keep him on as a locker room relic, Not a starter!

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