CHESTER, Pa. — Union midfielder Brian Carroll accepted his framed jersey and watched a tribute video from the field at Talen Energy Stadium, prior to Sunday’s 6-1 win against Orlando City SC.
Playing in his final MLS game, the veteran took it all in.
“Tonight was special,” said Carroll, who wrapped up his 15th season after announcing his retirement earlier in the week. “Especially the win, but really just the whole week and the handshakes and the hugs and the pictures and the little interviews. It all made for a very special week. And to top it off this way was really icing on the cake.”
Carroll entered the match for Fafa Picault at halftime and played a flawless 45 minutes.
“I felt OK,” he said. “I just needed five minutes to catch my breath. Then I was all right. The game was pretty settled at that point so I could just sit in and try to help the guys around me, so it was fun.”
Then, with the same class and grace that he carried throughout his career, Carroll rode off into the sunset after one final professional match in front of the fans.
“It was really special and I’ll never forget it, said Carroll, who is moving to Indianapolis and beginning a career as a financial planner. “I love this club and I will always do anything I can to support it and be there for the club. I thank you for all the kind words and support and I’ll miss you guys.”
On the hot seat
Finishing the season outside of the playoffs with an 11-14-9 record, Union manager Jim Curtin’s future has become a topic of conversation. And although it’s unlikely he goes anywhere this offseason, the coach was asked if he thinks about his future.
“You might as well just ask me if I’m a human being,” Curtin said. “Of course you think about things like that. When you guys ask, “Do you hear the boos?” Do you think I have ears? These are silly questions.”
From the sound of it, Curtin believes his job is safe.
“I have a decent understanding of where I stand in the organization,” he said, “and I’ll continue to work to try to get it better and I know it’s not good enough right now, but I’ll continue to work as hard as I possibly can.”
Looking to the future
Despite the overall disappointing season, the Union used the finale Sunday to put on a show.
“There was something in the air,” said Union forward C.J. Sapong, who scored a pair of goals in the 6-1 rout. “It definitely felt like it was our day and it’s a good way to close the season. What can we take from this to implement for next season to do better.”
While the victory might feel like a deodorant that covers up the stink of another lost season, it did something interesting: It gave the Union the same record and point total as 2016, when they made the playoffs to only be dispatched by Toronto FC.
“I think it just depends on which way you look at it,” Sapong said. “For me personally, given the talent we have in this locker room, I feel like we should be playing in the playoffs, playing for hardware. Give credit to my teammates, staff and fans for dealing with a very up and down year, but now it’s behind us. We put our heads down and look forward.”
As Sapong said, the Union’s focus is on next season.
“We have offseason now to prepare,” Curtin said. “We’re not satisfied, but at the same time, the effort of the players, they gave everything. We asked them to bring a knife to a gunfight and they don’t complain. We recognized it wasn’t enough but there are still good things happening at the club.”
Ilsinho may not have a spot on the Union next season, but he played like he wanted one. The Brazilian playmaker buried two goals and had a key assist in Sunday’s season finale in an inspired performance.
‘I love it here,” he said. “I’m so happy here. All season I tried to help, I tried to do my best. Sometimes yeah, sometimes no, but it’s soccer you know. I love everything here, I like it here, I hope to be back.”
But despite the output, it still wasn’t a productive season from Ilsinho, who has a team option on his contract for 2018. With six goals and five assists in 27 games, he was better than his two goals, two assist line in 2016, but still uninspiring.
Still, the club liked what it got from Ilsinho at the No. 10 spot down the stretch.
“Ilsinho raised his game toward the end of the year,” Curtin said. “We’re happy for him. But again, the challenge is always to do it for 90 minutes, do it on the road. He shows he has incredible talent and he’s raised his level.”
With his 15th and 16th goals Sunday, Sapong finally snapped the Union franchise mark for goals in a season set by Sebastien Le Toux in 2010. While Sapong has brushed away talk of individual accolades throughout the year, the forward was able to appreciate the honor after the season finale.
“Obviously, to have my name somewhere for hopefully a very long time, it feels good,” he said. “I still feel like we could’ve done better. We’re not playing for anything meaningful, but it’s good to get those individual accolades. At the end of the season, I feel like I impacted my team in a positive way and that’s all I try to do.”
And to break the record in Carroll’s last game made it even sweeter. When Sapong was subbed out in the final minutes of the match to an ovation, he hugged Carroll.
“I told him I loved him and it was a pleasure to play with him,” Carroll said. “I told him this week, too, that I remember in his days on an opposing team, I would have to mark him on set pieces. It seemed really unfair, so I’m really thankful that he’s on my team and I don’t have to mark him anymore.”