A View from Afar / Commentary

The revelation of Brian Carroll

Photo: Daniel Studio

There was a time not so long ago that veteran Philadelphia Union midfielder Brian Carroll was the target of much fan derision. He was too old, they said. Too slow, too unimaginative, too this, too that. A relic. An anachronism.

Now, as one Union fan said after Carroll’s stunning game-tying goal Saturday against Colorado, “Brian Carroll just gained legend status.”

Overstatement or not, it says a lot about Carroll and the Union.

Quietly, as is his way, the 34-year-old Carroll has reached his sixth season with the Union. Only one other player on the Union can say that: Sebastien Le Toux. Though many still associate Carroll with his MLS Cup-winning tours with D.C. United and Columbus Crew, he has now spent more time with the Union than either of his prior clubs.

He has also resurrected his reputation over the last year in a way few could have predicted: By doing the same thing he always had, playing the game simply, smartly and often anonymously. Only today, he is now appreciated for it in a way he rarely was during his first three to four seasons with the Union.

For Carroll, the fact may be that the goalposts have changed.

During his first three seasons with the Union, critics spent more time complaining about what Carroll couldn’t do and what the alternatives, Maurice Edu and Amobi Okugo, could. They could run like the wind and cover acres of space. They had passing vision he didn’t. They made runs into the box, threatened to score when he didn’t. They were more modern defensive midfielders, the common wisdom went, while Carroll was an anachronism, a mere defensive shield for the back line and little more.

By comparison, Carroll’s strengths — his excellent reading of play and spatial awareness, his durability and minimal time spent injured, and his consistency — were often overlooked. It’s been said that, when you’re not saying Carroll’s name much during a game, it’s because he played a good one.

Now, however, there is no alternative starter to compare him to, no grass-is-greener star-in-waiting that Carroll is keeping out of the lineup. He is an intelligent, humble role player staving off Father Time, and he has stepped into the lineup as a regular starter again to play very well. This isn’t new. He put in a solid season last year too.

Is Carroll a legend? The Union don’t have legends yet. You have to win cups for that. You have to put in more than seven seasons for that.

But he is a guy who, when he eventually retires in five years, should be remembered fondly by Union fans. He came to work every day and put in an honest shift, played hard, and won some games.

His remarkable goal Saturday may be the one that, years down the line, we look back at and say, “This was the moment when everyone realized that Philadelphia Union had become the team its fans had awaited for years.” Somehow, it seems perfectly appropriate that he’s the guy who scored it.

Miscellaneous Union and MLS notes
  • Eastern Conference rising: Eastern Conference clubs went 4-0-2 against their Western Conference counterparts this past weekend, including D.C. United’s 1-0 road win over Sporting Kansas City. The Red Bulls have recovered from their horrendous start to win six of their last seven games, and their goal differential (+4) is tied with the Union for third best in all of MLS. Montreal looks like they can beat any team on any given night. The big questions will be how Toronto can fare in the absence of injured attackers Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, and whether Ola Kamara’s hat trick in a Columbus win over Real Salt Lake is a sign of things to come as the team rights the course — or an anomaly.
  • Union center backs a strength: The Union have transformed the center back position from a weakness to a strength. They have three starting quality center backs — four if you count Maurice Edu. Union manager Jim Curtin is now in a position where he can and probably should figure out a way to start rotating Richie Marquez, Josh Yaro and Ken Tribbett to give them all regular minutes. Not only have they all earned time, but it may make for a stronger, fresher unit later in the season.
  • Speaking of squad rotation: Curtin hasn’t done much squad rotation during his Union tenure, and that stayed largely true Saturday in Colorado, at least for the front six. Sure enough, that front six featured some tired legs running at altitude after halftime. Granted, this team has a two-and-a-half-week layoff coming up, and Saturday’s big game against the surprise top team in MLS may not have been the time to rest his veteran attackers. Keep in mind though that tired legs often become injured legs when pushed too far. If we see no rotation in Wednesday’s match against Columbus, Roland Alberg will probably wonder what he has to do, short of breaking Tranquillo Barnetta’s legs, to get some more time. Walter Restrepo and Leo Fernandes must be pining for their New York Cosmos days by now.
  • Yes, the Union are for real. Stop asking. It’s not even a question now.


  1. I think when Coach looked at the schedule, at the break for the Copa, he thought yeah, time for a big push in those three matches before we all get some time off. Thing is, did you see that look on Ilsinho’s face? I’ve had that look. It’s the look that says, “Why can’t I catch my breath? I’ve been breathing hard for over a minute, why do I still feel like I need more air?” I know it’s not Estadio Azteca, but it’s still up there. The air is a bit skinny.

    • anonymous says:

      it’s because he’s fat.

      • from my TV view, it looked like his gut was gone
        not to argue your larger point, which is that he has been out of shape, yes, but I can tell you that out of shape at altitude feels worse than out of shape at sea level, and on both counts I am something of an expert

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        I thought so as well, in reference gut.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        I thought he looked thinner… especially in his face. Not saying he might still not need to drop a few, but he looks thinner than even a few weeks ago.

    • It’s funny because we can make fun of his fitness all we want but the bottom line is if our youth had half the talent with the ball Ilsinho does we’d be a top ten country.

      • el Pachyderm says:


      • Your coach praises the exercise science the team adopted and you find yourself a late game sub despite having the highest skill level on the club because you might be a bit less fit. Maybe he returns from the break in the XI. We lack that 1 v 1 capability. He complements Kee gan far better than LeToux.

  2. el Pachyderm says:

    I’m glad for Brian Carroll. I’m glad for the team as well. Much of the criticism leveled at him was warranted though chase for a stretch there is play was rough to take. For whatever reason, he is playing better…. of those around hi are playing better or the Plan is tailored to his strengths more. I’m not refined enough to know.

    • pragmatist says:

      “For whatever reason…”
      Vision, philosophy, plan. Instituted by Earnie, coached by Curtin, adapted by the players.
      A guy like Carroll has a very defined role on a team like this. He’s not intended to be an all-star, or the focus of the team. He is there to do exactly what he does: protect the young-un’s behind him from being overly-exposed.
      He is the perfect veteran presence for this young and developing defense.
      No, I wouldn’t have made that case 6 months ago…but like most of the rest of us, I was a bit off in my assessment of his worth to this team

  3. 1. People here seem to have forgotten that BC had an excellent season in 2015 as well. In 2014 he didn’t play as well, leading to a lot of the calls to retire him, but last year he did yeoman’s work filling in when Nogueira was injured – it was just overshadowed by the goaltending fiascos and the overall terrible season. It’s not like his current high-quality season is out of nowhere. (BTW, I love the line about Carroll retiring 5 years from now. Nice one.)

    2. I am also getting concerned about lack of squad rotation. Curtin himself even said a few weeks ago that he would need everyone on the squad to step up. OTOH, you can’t argue with the results during a very tough stretch of play.

  4. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Just listened and saw the tape of Jim Curtin’s press conference that some one on PSP is busy transcribing as I type.
    As some of you have already heard last night apparently, Matt Jones will start in goal.
    Josh Yaro missed training today to get an MRI on his shoulder. Curtin hopes he can play with the injury for the rest of the season and resolve the problem medically at the end of the season. Curtin is relying on his own personal medical experience in expressing the hope.
    He said Vince Nogueira was feeling 100% in training today and that “he is available.” He left those present to make their guesses from that statement.
    He also said that Earnie Stewart apologized to the team for the state of the pitch due to the NCAA women’s’ lax tournament being played on the field this past weekend. He characterized it as an example of Stewart always putting the players first.
    He also gave public mentions and appreciation to the roster members who have seen no playing time for the first team this season, Cole Missimo, Walter Restrepo, Taylor Washington, [I know he did not mention Eric Ayuk, an omission I can forgive because Ayuk has been away on international duty with the appropriate Cameroonian youth national team in a tournament qualification home-and-away with Zimbabwe (thank you, Unauthorized Bethlehem Steel FC Blog!) and was not present for the road trip to Florida and Colorado]. Fernandez and McCarthy had gotten “shout outs” earlier in the press conference in other contexts. I will double check if anyone else was left out and report back.

    • old soccer coach says:

      The other persons besides Missimo, Ayuk, Restrepo, and Washington who have not played a minute for the first team this season are Maurice Edu and Matt Jones. Jones’s status will change with the opening tap tomorrow night.

      • old soccer coach says:

        Edu’s status should start to become a topic for attention occasionally after the break, as Kevin Kinkead sometimes mentions already when he reports on practice, also Marissa Pilla.

    • Did you also pick up on his backhanded compliment to Columbus?
      Note the answer to the question at 16:44min regarding Ola Kamara….”he gets good service from Meram, Finlay, and their outside backs…” note who he did not include in that list? I see you Jim and I applaud you Coach!
      It sounded off the cuff but I think he knew what he was doing with the answer. If it was intentional, and I think it was, I have to say big props to Curtin for learning how to play some media games. I was critical in the past saying he was to open and honest with the press before games so this, to me at least, shows growth in him as a coach.

  5. “when he eventually retires in five years”
    Don’t think I didn’t catch that. Very sneaky, Dan…and I wouldn’t completely bet against it!

    • + 1 to that! Maybe the surrounding players are helping. Not that I think Carroll isn’t a quality player. Just the opposite. Now its just great to see everyone playing with confidence. Go Union!!

    • Dan Walsh says:


  6. BC had to have been frustrated as all hell in seasons past………everyone ripped him, but he was trying to cover up all of the ineptitude of his former MF partners………Cruz, Farfan, Daniel….

  7. Agree that Carroll was better last year. Noguiera. Marquez. Carroll is even better this year. Barnetta, Rosenberry, Yaro, Tribett. Asked to be a pure CDM, he’s been rewarded with acclaim. The Union’s “Feel Good” story of the campaign to date. In a season that has been nothing short of unpredicted results.

  8. To go along with BC, I think you can make the case for Le2 as well. It appears that he is running with more purpose and actually sticking more to a midfield position instead of always moving centrally.
    Let’s also not forget the faces and arm gestures Nogs used to make when the ball was at his feet. He looked constantly frustrated on the pitch.
    I never got a sense of organization from the Union squads in the past. But currently this team knows who they are and what they need to do.

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