By Madeline Carino
MSU Athletic Communications
In a game where most players are driven to score, senior Zach Carroll is determined to protect the net. This defender is willing to do whatever it takes to prevent a shot.
“Here at State we really pride ourselves on defense, me being a defender that’s something I love,” said Carroll. “I get more pride in stopping someone, shutting them out instead of winning a game 5 to 4.”
The Grand Blanc, Michigan native is a leader on the Spartan back line. His presence contributed to the team’s 12 shutouts last season and five so far this year.
Carroll played his first two years of collegiate soccer at the University of Virginia. Immediately his talent was recognized.
He started 16 games as a freshman, had four goals and finished second on the team in points (10). The following year he missed eight games with a hamstring injury, but still contributed to the team’s 2013 NCAA College Cup appearance.
His injury took a toll, and the frustration continued in the off-season. Eventually, Carroll decided to transfer.
He had always been fond of Michigan State. In high school, it was one of the places he considered committing. He had already competed with some of the players in the past, and with East Lansing only an hour away from Grand Blanc, it was a decision that made sense. His parents could be more involved in his final two seasons.
“I called my mom and she started crying on the phone,” said Carroll. “(My parents) have been to every home game and my dad will travel to almost every away game too.”
In his first season as a Spartan, Carroll instantly impacted the game at both ends of the field. At 6-foot-3, he can aggressively stop advancing forwards and pose a threat in the box when the Spartans have a corner kick.
Carroll started 23 games as a junior with five goals and two assists. He set the tone by scoring off a corner kick in his first game appearance. Despite being a defender, he finished ninth in the conference for goals scored and was awarded Second-Team NSCAA All-Region honors. He played a major role in the Spartan’s 2014 NCAA Elite Eight appearance.
Carroll contributes in key offensive opportunities like corner kicks and especially penalty kicks. When a foul is called in the box, everyone looks to him.
“Guys get really nervous with that stuff, and I’m someone who when a PK is called, I’m like just give me the ball, I want it,” said Carroll.
Carroll’s been at the line twice this season, putting one at the back of the net. Overall he has two goals and one assist.
Upon transferring, he immediately noticed a change of pace from the ACC to the Big Ten, primarily in the game’s physicality.
“I think here guys are willing to throw their bodies in places they shouldn’t be, and playing with Virginia in the ACC, it’s more of a finesse kind of league and team,” said Carroll. “It’s more technical and shifty guys whereas here in the Big Ten it’s more big brutes going at each other.”
Carroll says that the physical atmosphere is a testament of MSU head coach Damon Rensing’s recruiting. The team’s intensity is something recognized among opponents. To Carroll, it represents the dedication to protecting their net.
Carroll is the first member in his family to play competitive soccer. He started in an AYSO league, where a mob of kids chased a ball. He joined more competitive leagues around the age of nine. As a teenager, he traveled across the country and throughout the world, representing the United States in prestigious tournaments.
One of Carroll’s favorite soccer moments is standing at center field, anxiously awaiting one of the most important games of his life. Only 17 years old and he represented his country in the 2011 FIFA World Cup in Mexico. He remembers when the National Anthem was played. It was a special moment for young Carroll, years later he still remembers it when the anthem plays before each game.
Growing up he was a multi-sport athlete, also playing football, baseball and basketball. By his sophomore year in high school, he kicked for the football team and eliminated the other sports to dedicate more time to soccer.
“Looking back, I thought it was the best opportunity to get a scholarship and go to college to play,” said Carroll.
His decision paid off. Carroll earned just about every major award available for a high school player. The list includes the 2011 NSCAA National Boys High School Player of the Year, NSCAA All-American, named Michigan’s Mr. Soccer and Michigan’s Gatorade Player of the Year.
He competed on the 2011 U-17 Men’s National Team and started in the World Cup in Mexico. He was also a member of the U-17 MNT Residency Program in 2010 and 2011.
The center defender will graduate this year with a degree in philosophy. He wants to continue playing soccer and will pursue a professional career. He plans on showcasing his skills in the Pro Soccer Combine and hopefully is drafted. Carroll would also consider playing professionally in Europe.
“I really want to play after college for as long as I can,” said Carroll.
The Spartans have earned a reputation for developing professional talent. More recently, Carroll’s former teammates Jay Chapman and Fatai Alashe are both playing on professional teams. Carroll aims to be one of the next MSU players to succeed at the next level.
He hopes to end his collegiate career on a positive note. The Spartans were one goal away from defeating Providence in the Elite Eight last year. Carroll is determined to take his team to the next step.
He remembers the College Cup as an “unreal experience.” The four remaining teams have a banquet together, and the atmosphere buzzes with excitement. The senior wants to share that moment with his current teammates.
“That’s definitely something that I would want this team to be able to experience,” said Carroll.