McCarty Expects Emotional Return to Red Bull Arena
April 28, 2017
IT MIGHT BE HARD TO BELIEVE for some fans and observers, but Dax McCarty does not foresee any thoughts of revenge against his former club on Saturday.
Processing feelings of happiness, sadness, and everything in between is another story.
McCarty will walk back into Red Bull Arena for the first time since the New York Red Bulls shockingly—and, in the eyes of some, coldheartedly—shipped him to the Chicago Fire this past January. The Eastern Conference tilt that is the must-see MLS match in Week 9 would be intriguing on its own given the midfield battle that is set to take place, but the added subplot of McCarty going up against his old team in his former stomping grounds has added another layer of interest.
How could it not? McCarty’s divorce from the Red Bulls was an ugly one, as it came just days after he got married to his long-time girlfriend. One of the happiest days of his personal life was literally followed by one of the toughest of his professional life. The defensive midfielder, who was New York’s captain the past two years, at first was critical of how the deal was handled and Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch confessed that McCarty harbored ill will about the trade.
Now, McCarty is heading back to the stadium that saw him create so many memories for six seasons. His mission will be to try and get the best of his close buddies and former teammates, just hours before he celebrates his 30th birthday.
Clearly, this will not be just another April regular season MLS game—not for McCarty.
“As far as my preparation, I’m trying my best to treat it like any other game but obviously it’s going to be emotional going back to Red Bull Arena and being a visitor for the first time since I believe 2010,” McCarty told American Soccer Now this week. “That’ll certainly be a weird feeling, but I’m a professional. I know what I need to do to get ready for the game. I’ll say 'Hi' to the guys on the field before the game and some people that I know, and then once the ball kicks off, we’re competitive guys. Both teams are going to want to win, and I’m sure it’ll be a really fun battle and a really fun test against some guys that I’m really good friends with.
“Other than that, I just want to use it to make sure that I soak in the atmosphere one last time. I’m sure I’ll play at Red Bull Arena plenty of times after this, but I think the first time you go back after something like this you always want to cherish the moment.”
What McCarty insists he will not be doing this weekend is using the Red Bulls’ decision to part ways with him as fuel. McCarty is already motivated enough by his burning desire to win every game, and he knows that picking up maximum points will not be easy given Chicago’s poor road form to date and New York’s strong central midfield trio of Sacha Kljestan, Felipe, and the up-and-coming Tyler Adams.
He will largely be in charge of limiting Kljestan’s playmaking abilities, a task that has proven tough for the majority of the league over the past two seasons.
Physically, McCarty should be able to hold his own given that Kljestan is no elite specimen. Mentally, however, McCarty will need to be razor-sharp for 90 minutes in order to prevent the New York star too much time and space on the ball. McCarty also needs to be focused in order to not fall prey to the Red Bulls’ high press, and to be able to distribute passes accurately to advanced midfield partners Juninho and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
“You have to be good with the ball, you have to move it fast, you have to get the ball off your foot quickly if you want to make sure you break their pressure,” said McCarty. “Obviously they’re very effective at what they do and that’s a credit to the team and how they play and just everyone being on the same page. Their pressure is very good, so if you can play through their pressure and try to break them down then obviously you’re going to have opportunities going the other way.
“That’s something that we’ve focused on and that’s something that I’ve told the guys.”
McCarty sharing tidbits on the likes of Kljestan and Felipe is the least of New York’s concerns. The club expects to see a determined McCarty on Saturday, one that will both be breaking up plays and moving the ball quickly to jumpstart attacks.
It wouldn't be the least bit surprising if the Fire newcomer proved to be the key to the game.
“I think that we’ll see his absolute best,” Marsch told reporters earlier this week. “Knowing Dax, he’s a competitor and he’s going to come here and he’s going to want to make a statement and he’s going to want to play his best and he’s going to want to win.”
One source of added motivation that will be driving McCarty is his desire to remain in the U.S. national team picture. The veteran was called into the last camp in March by head coach Bruce Arena but did not play in either of the Americans’ two World Cup Qualifiers.
Another pair of games on the road to the 2018 tournament in Russia is on the schedule for June, and McCarty wants to give himself every shot at being there by playing well for Chicago. He has done that so far this season, but needs to continue to turn in strong performances, including in this weekend’s battle against New York.
“I’m a big believer that guys on the national team should be part of successful teams and teams that are winning,” said McCarty. “It’s obviously in the back of my head, but I just have to keep playing my game, keep doing things to try and get better every day, and hope to stay healthy. That’s the most important thing.”
Winning with the Fire may be essential to McCarty, but nonetheless he plans to stay on the field after the final whistle on Saturday night regardless of the result. He wants to bid a proper farewell to the Red Bulls supporters that rooted him on for more than half a decade as he evolved from regular and reliable starter to esteemed MLS All-Star.
He also wants to share some more moments with his old teammates, many of whom attended his wedding just days before the surprise trade of the offseason.
“I have texted with a couple of guys on the team and just had some friendly banter with them,” said McCarty. “It’s going to be good to see them again. We’ve obviously been through a lot together. All the successes and all the failures that we’ve been through forges a lot of strong relationships in that organization. I’ve got some good friends in that locker room, some guys that I’ll be friends for life with.
“It’ll definitely be funny seeing them on the other side of the field and we’ve had a couple of friendly conversations, but obviously once game time comes we’re both going to try to win. That’s how it’s going to be and after the game is over we’ll shake hands and we’ll be buddies again, but obviously I’m looking forward to 90 minutes of tough soccer.”
Franco Panizo is a bilingual New York-based reporter who has covered the U.S. men's national team, MLS, and all levels of American soccer for nearly a decade. Follow him on Twitter.