Midfielder Brian Carroll has been a stabilizing force in the middle of the field for Philadelphia.
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Carroll's return reminds Union just what they were missing

CHESTER, Pa. — In his first game back after being sidelined with what he’d later describe as “three bone contusions, turf toe and an arch issue,” midfielder Brian Carroll found himself needing to use his feet to save the game for the Philadelphia Union.

But at that moment, with New England’s Milton Caraglio streaking all alone down the field in the final moments of last Wednesday’s game at PPL Park, Carroll didn’t even think about his injury, chasing down the Revs striker, thwarting the last-ditch breakaway attempt and preserving the Union’s come-from-behind 4-4 draw.

Perhaps more than anything else, it was that single play that showed why Carroll has never missed the playoffs since joining the league in 2003.

“Luckily he wasn’t a speedster,” Carroll said with a smile. “My calves were actually cramping at midfield on that play. I was just happy to get back and be somewhat of a stopper back there and not give him a chance to score.”

Because that game featured eight goals and an historic three-goal comeback, Carroll’s late-game heroics went mostly overlooked. But his performance did not go unnoticed three days later when Union manager Peter Nowak said the defensive midfielder had an “exceptional game” in Philly’s scoreless draw with the Portland Timbers.

In both that contest and in the second half vs. the Revs last week, Carroll was instrumental in holding the opposition to zero goals as the Union pushed hard to score.

“I think holding down the middle was more of a responsibility tonight and in the second half against New England just because we pushed so many numbers forward,” Carroll said following this past Saturday’s draw with Portland. “It’s more about just locking down the counterattack. You just have to keep the play moving and keep everything safe.”

The Union certainly missed Carroll’s defensive abilities in back-to-back road losses to the Columbus Crew and Real Salt Lake (on Aug. 20 and Sept. 3, respectively), as the midfielder was held out of the lineup because of his right foot injury.

Carroll said he probably would have missed even more time if not for Philly postponing their originally scheduled home game against New England because of Hurricane Irene. Even still, sitting out this late in the season was not fun for him.

“It was extremely frustrating because there was nothing I could do,” said Carroll, who missed a little bit of time earlier in the season with a hamstring strain. “I just had to give it time and rest. Any time a player is as competitive as I am, you want to be back as soon as possible. You don’t want anything to limit what you do on the field.”

When he returned, he promptly showed he wasn’t limited in any way, making his memorable breakaway-stopping play – and many others.

“It looked pretty good on my part,” Carroll admitted. “But I’m just happy we were able to come back and show some character and get a tie.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.