Carroll's key contributions have Union on playoff brink

Defensive mid has yet to miss postseason in nine-year career

CHESTER, Pa. – Brian Carroll could think of only two ways to describe his first goal in league play this season.

“It was awesome and exhausting at the same time,” he told MLSsoccer.com.

It was also crucial to the Philadelphia Union’s playoff hopes.

Saturday in Seattle, Carroll sealed Philly’s crucial 2-0 win over the Sounders with a 70th-minute goal, sprinting almost the entire length of the field, collecting a pass from Sébastien Le Toux and slotting a shot into the corner of the net to give his club a commanding lead.

Afterwards, Carroll said the goal led to “a big sigh of relief,” in part because he didn’t have to sprint all the way back to the other end of the field after his long run. Even still, he wasn’t exactly sure where to run or what to do next. The midfielder, after all, is far more used to preventing counter-attacks than finishing them off.

“I don’t really know how to celebrate,” said Carroll, who’s scored just five goals in his nine-year MLS career. “I just try to catch my breath and take as long as I can before they have to restart the play.”

While the defensive midfielder may not be familiar with scoring – or goal celebrations – one thing he is familiar with is making the playoffs. Remarkably, Carroll’s teams have advanced to the postseason every year he’s been in the league. And with the Union closing in on clinching a playoff berth this season, Carroll is on the verge of making it 9-for-9.

How has he been able to make the playoffs every season, through stints with D.C. United (2003-07), the Columbus Crew (2008-10), and now the Union?

“It’s a testament to the teams and coaches I’ve had the pleasure of playing with,” Carroll said. “Throughout my career, I’ve been around guys who came to work day-in and day-out, trying to improve and trying to get to that ultimate goal. It’s no different with this squad. It’s certainly a great team to be around.”

That may be true, but Carroll’s humility is probably preventing him from pointing out one key component to his playoff streak: himself.

Luckily, his teammates understand that Carroll’s ability in the midfield is a big reason why the Union can clinch a playoff berth this weekend with a win or tie over Toronto FC (4 pm ET; Comcast SportsNet) in Saturday’s regular-season home finale.

“I think Brian is a guy that doesn’t always get a lot of credit, but our locker room gives him all the credit in the world,” Union defender Sheanon Williams said. “He’s worked extremely hard for us, and other than a couple of games he missed with an ankle injury, he’s really been someone we can count on.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.