Player Name: Brian Carroll
Position: Defensive midfielder
Minutes Played: 2969
Appearances: 33 starts in 33 games played
Goals: 2 (1 in the US Open Cup)
Other stats: 80.58% pass completion, good for 48th in MLS
With Carlos Valdes departing for Colombia on loan, Brian Carroll seemed to be the obvious choice coming into the season to wear the armband. Amongst the MLS veterans on the roster who played regularly - Le Toux, Parke, Casey, Kleberson - Carroll was the only returning member of the roster from last season.
What Brian Carroll does well doesn't usually show up on the stat-sheet. In addition to organizing his teammates on the field as team captain, Carroll's job is to make sure opponents aren't allowed to roam free with the ball in the center of the field. He closes out potential passing lanes and recognizes second balls better than most defensive midfielders in MLS. For most of the season, Carroll's consistency and resolve in defense was a staple of this young team. Carroll was instrumental in mid-season shutouts against New York and Columbus, the latter in which he actually scored a long distance strike.
However, as much as Carroll added to the toughness of the team, he added very little to solve the Union's biggest problem this season: creativity in the midfield. Carroll is a pure defensive midfielder; other than restarting attacks after winning the ball he does not add much to the team's offense. Hackworth paired Carroll for most of the season with Keon Daniel, and the pair failed to offer any solutions going forward for most of their matches. Michael Farfan and Jose Kleberson were also given tryouts in the middle of the field as Carroll's partner, with little or no positive results.
High Point: Carroll's stoppage time game winner against Ocean City FC in late May saved the Union in an otherwise listless and embarrassing performance and the sparse crowd (including myself) at PPL Park from having to watch 30 more minutes of that dreck on a cold Tuesday night.
Low Point: Carroll was noticeably less sharp on defense in the last two months of the season, and he and Kleberson offered little resistance in a 2-1 away loss to a struggling Montreal Impact side that was the first nail in the coffin of the Union's playoff hopes. In addition, Carroll picked up a careless yellow card that kept him out of the finale against Sporting KC, his only missed match of the season.
Carroll's future with the Union is very much in doubt. The league seems to be evolving past the days of the pure defensive midfielder. The Brian Carrolls and Ricardo Clarks are become less prevalent in MLS and teams are starting to rely on more two-way holding midfielders like Oriol Rosell and Diego Chara. Furthermore, John Hackworth has expressed a desire to move permanently to a 4-3-3. Even if Hackworth sticks to his guns in insisting that Amobi Okugo will stay in defense, it's difficult to see how Carroll fits in the new central midfield. As a "6" or "8" holding midfielder players need to not only cover the center of the pitch but also the gaps on the flanks between the fullbacks and wingers. At age 32 Carroll might not have the physical stamina to perform such a role on a regular basis.