When Crew technical director Brian Bliss was asked who defensive midfielder Brian Carroll reminded him of, the quick response was “Kerry Zavagnin.”
“There’s similar styles," Bliss said. "Both are unheralded. BC’s willing to do whatever the team needs and happy to do the job he does but knows he’s not going to get the recognition.
“That’s the closest player that that comes to mind because I was in KC [with Zavagnin] for seven years.”
There is another bond between Carroll and Zavagnin, who ended an 11-year career after the 2008 season: Both earned MLS Cup titles in their first seasons with their new clubs.
Zavagnin joined Kansas City in 2000 after a stint with the MetroStars and helped the Wizards to their lone championship in team history.
Carroll was acquired by the Crew in 2008 and played all but eight minutes that year in keying Columbus to their lone title and the first of consecutive Supporters’ Shields.
In fact, Carroll has been on the past four Shield winners, having taken two with D.C. United in 2006-07. He also won the MLS Cup with D.C. in 2004.
Yet Carroll toils in anonymity behind the likes of teammates Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Chad Marshall and Frankie Hejduk.
Carroll is the conduit between the backline and the midfield and a tireless worker in the defensive end. That’s why he has only three goals in 193 regular-season and playoff games.
“I do whatever’s going to help the team,” he said. “My role’s to connect and play solid defense. If I can get forward I’ll do that. There’s sometimes when I get forward but it’s not a whole lot. Most of the time when I get in that position the ball will find someone else.”
The Crew are looking for more firepower from the midfield but don’t want Carroll to stray from his game in search of goals.
“We like him for what he does,” Bliss said. “The minute we start asking—not only him but other guys—to play outside their comfort zone, then I don’t think we’re getting it right on the concept side that we’re trying to develop here.
“We’re not putting any extra pressure on him to step up in the offensive end because that’s not his contribution that we’re looking for.”
Carroll is all skin and bones, but the Crew found out how tough the 5-10, 155-pounder is when he missed only two matches last season after suffering a separated right shoulder in late June that required postseason surgery.
He played the rest of the way with a harness and a nasty knot on the shoulder. He underwent joint reconstruction surgery on Nov. 11.
“They filleted me open and took the skin down this way and that way,” he said, revealing about a six-inch zipper across his shoulder. “They took some steel wire and cadaver tissue and intertwined it all.”
The recovery was no fun, either.
“I didn’t do anything for two weeks [after surgery] beyond sit down, watch TV, eat food and take pain medication,” Carroll said. “Once I got sick of the pain medication, I had to wait another two weeks before I could start rehab. Then it was about three months of rehab.”
Carroll missed much of the offseason conditioning but was ready for the Champions League quarterfinals in March against Toluca and the first two MLS games.
“He’s playing good soccer, but because he missed some action in the beginning of preseason, I’m looking for him to play much better,” coach Robert Warzycha said.
Getting over the psychological barrier of having a repaired shoulder has not been a problem for Carroll.
“It’s not ever going to be perfect again, but it’s good enough to play where I’m not thinking about it or it’s hindering me or my performance,” he said. “The only time I think about it is when I have to go down. I try to fall on my back or my chest or my other shoulder. I’ve already fallen on my right shoulder. I’ve used it to stop somebody from running through.”