CHESTER, Pa. -- Brian Carroll vividly remembers being an MLS rookie in 2003 when Earnie Stewart passed around cigars to everyone in the locker room after D.C. United qualified for the postseason.
Since then, Carroll’s impression of Stewart has remained the same, calling him “a great guy and a great competitor.” And more than a decade after playing two seasons and winning the 2004 MLS Cup with him at D.C., the Philadelphia Union midfielder is excited to reunite with Stewart, who on Monday was hired as the Union’s sporting director.
“Obviously he’s had a very storied career,” Carroll told MLSsoccer.com. “He’s kind of done everything -- played for the US national team, played overseas, played in MLS, been a technical director overseas. So we’re excited to have him as part of the Philadelphia Union, and we know he’ll do a great job pushing our team to a new level.”
Given that he’s 34 and has a team option in his contract for next season, Carroll’s own place within the club is less certain. But the central midfielder is hoping to play at least one more season for Philadelphia before staying with the organization in a different capacity, perhaps alongside Stewart or head coach Jim Curtin on the technical staff.
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And after meeting with Curtin on Monday, a day after the Union’s season ended, he’s optimistic that will happen.
“The hope and the plan is to work something out to be a part of the team next year and then see what happens as far as transitioning into the club beyond the playing days in the future,” Carroll said. “There have been a few ideas floated around. We’ll just have to see what works best for my family but also keeps the best interest of the club at heart as well.”
Carroll said the Union’s new USL team, Bethlehem Steel FC, “absolutely” presents a good possibility for him to work with younger players as soon as the 2016 season. But while coaching may not be far off, Carroll believes he can still be an “effective” MLS player for at least another season.
He certainly showed that’s the case this year, making 21 starts and logging 1,820 minutes in his 13th MLS season, filling an important role in the defensive midfield as Maurice Edu played mostly at center back and Michael Lahoud battled injuries.
That’s more than he played the year before, and more than Carroll said he was expecting coming into the season when he was signed to a one-year deal with a team option.
“Individually, I helped out more this year than last year and was able to contribute some wins and play at a pretty high level when called upon,” Carroll said. “But obviously the ultimate goal is to get the club in the playoffs and to compete and win championships, and we didn’t do that.”
And after making the playoffs his first nine years in MLS before missing out on the postseason in each of the last four, Carroll is eager to get back there. Winning another championship with Stewart would be even better.
“We made the playoffs once [in 2011] but it’s not enough,” Carroll said. “It’s something I strongly desire -- to get that taste back in my mouth.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.