Brian Carroll doesn't like to be singled out. A consummate team player, his unglamorous work as a holding midfielder for the Columbus Crew often goes unnoticed, and that suits the Virginia native just fine.
But in the midst of this banner year for the Crew, there's reason to turn the spotlight on Carroll, if only for a while. The six-year MLS veteran is the only player to play every minute of every game so far this season, a fact the Crew's P.R. people were all too eager to mention.
"They had to bring it up, huh?" Carroll said, shrugging, after logging a full 90 in Columbus' 3-1 win over the New York Red Bulls last Thursday.
Surely he wouldn't make light of so much playing time on a team where midfielders have to claw and scratch their way into a starting spot?
"It's good," Carroll said, betraying more than a hint of embarrassment. "I'm glad I can be out there and help the team, but there's a lot of other players that are doing their jobs that make my job easier. And when I do my job, it makes other people's jobs easier."
Carroll has indeed been making life easier for his teammates this season. He has provided consistency at a position where the Crew has long struggled to stay fit.
But he hasn't just been a healthy body - he has excelled at shutting down other teams' playmakers and transferring the ball from the Columbus defenders to their attacking teammates. And for a player who doesn't score a lot of goals, his stunning strike against FC Dallas last month was quite the cherry on top of a stellar season.
Carroll's quality play is making the Crew brass look smarter and smarter for acquiring the former D.C. United player in a trade for backup forward Kei Kamara on the day of last winter's expansion draft.
Humble and soft-spoken, Carroll prefers to defer to his teammates and quietly go about giving his all. Still, he's a former MLS champion, so he understands what the Crew needs to do to keep playing the best soccer in the league. When pressed, he offered his take.
"We just need to build on what we've been doing," Carroll explained. "We just need to fine-tune some things - fine-tune finishing off chances, fine-tune keeping possession and finishing off games. We've been defending as a unit, and we've been working for each other, and that's a good thing. If we can keep that going, I think we're doing the right things."
What's next for the Crew?
A visit to New England this weekend may be the deciding factor in who wins the Supporters' Shield, Major League Soccer's award for the best regular season record. The Crew could build a comfortable eight-point lead or allow the Revolution within two points of the top spot. Kickoff for this crucial match is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday on ONN.