Five Years Later, An Insider Look at How the Red Bulls Acquired Dax McCarty

It was a move that was panned at the time but now, five years later, the New York Red Bulls couldn’t be more thrilled with a trade that sent Dwayne DeRosario to D.C United.

Coming the other way was an enigmatic, supposed malcontent by the name of Dax McCarty.

Five years ago this week, McCarty was sent to the Red Bulls in a trade that sent shockwaves up and down MLS, and not because of the player heading to the Big Apple. Instead, the fact DeRosario was being jettisoned from New York was the ripple in this trade. At the time, DeRosario was a Canadian international, a star of their national team who the Red Bulls had acquired in a trade with Toronto F.C. just two months prior.

In fact, DeRosario would go on a tear once he joined United in late June, scoring 13 goals alongside seven assists. He would go on to become the league’s MVP. It looked like the Red Bulls got hosed.

Now, five years after the deal, McCarty is coming off a Best XI season, is the Red Bulls captain and signed a long-term deal with the club this offseason. DeRosario, who always seemed out of place in the Red Bulls midfield at the time, never found the same success after the 2011 season and retired last spring.

But at the time, it was a tremendous risk. DeRosario was one of the best-attacking players in the history of the league, silky smooth on the ball and technically strong. He was supposed to be the link between the yeoman-like Red Bulls midfield and the stars up top such as Thierry Henry.

Instead, the attack became disjointed and DeRosario, who was seeking a Designated Player deal, was no longer a fit.

“D.C. was having a bad season and Dax was being targeted as a not being able to handle the pressure,” recalls Ricardo Campos, who was at that time the Red Bulls Technical Director under sporting director Erik Soler.

“For me, he was being expected to play the No. 10 role when he should be a No. 8 – a two-way midfielder — or a No. 6 – a holding mid. Personally, I think he’s best spot is as a No. 6.”

Little was known about McCarty at the time. He had come into MLS as a 19-year-old with experience on the U-20 national team and eventually the U-23 national team. The word on the street was that he was a creative midfielder. Injuries had hurt his development as well.

Campos, who was a candidate in 2014 to become the team’s sporting director, said that the management team and coaching staff discussed acquiring McCarty even though DeRosario, at the time, was considered one of the league’s best players – “Soler really wanted him and saw the potential.”

DeRosario couldn’t believe the move, finding out about the trade following training at the team’s old facility at Montclair State University. He called his agent, incredulous that for the second time in as many months he had been dealt.

Up and down the stairs he paced, gesturing while on the phone, unable to believe the news.

The rest of the league and the team’s fan base couldn’t fathom it either. McCarty was a young American, but not exactly a star. He had already been traded from FC Dallas to United earlier in his career and now up to New York.

It seemed like he was set to be a journeyman and that the Red Bulls were getting pennies on the dollar in giving up DeRosario, who they had acquired just a couple months before.

Rumor had it that he didn’t fit in at either of his two prior stops in MLS. How he would do in a locker room alongside Henry and stars such as Rafa Marquez was anyone’s guess.

“We knew he would be a big player in this league. We got offers every season for him but never moved on it,” Campos said.

The catalyst for the move was DeRosario’s desire for more money. One of the biggest talents in MLS and a perennial All-Star as well as a Best XI selection, he was looking for a Designated Player salary. The Red Bulls already had Henry and Marquez on the books, and DeRosario wasn’t going to help sell tickets at Red Bull Arena.

He was a nice player, a talent for sure, but he wasn’t a global star like Henry or Marquez.

Then an assistant coach with the Red Bulls, Mike Petke was also in on the discussions with Soler and head coach Hans Backe. It was a big decision to move on from DeRosario after just two months with the team, especially since the Red Bulls had given up young midfielder Tony Tchani to originally acquire the All-Star attacker.

This was, after all, one of the league’s best attacking players and no one knew that McCarty would grow into becoming the lynchpin of the Red Bulls midfield.

“The input I provided was that he was a talented player with a huge upside, who could play a key role in the right environment and system. I spoke with [United head coach] Ben Olsen a bit about him to find out about his character, which we learned a lot about,” Petke said.

Petke would go on to become the Red Bulls head coach in 2013, keying a highly successful two years for the organization including their first ever trophy.

It’s crazy to think back and realize that if DeRosario wasn’t in the final year of his contract, Dax would have most likely never been in a Red Bull uniform. Red Bull didn’t want to pay DeRosario his option price, which was huge. The decision was made to get the most for him.

From there, Ricardo Campos did a great job to work out the details to acquire Dax.

“DeRo went on to win the MVP that year, and he deserved it, but we got a steal with Dax. I don’t know that we would have won the Supporters Shield in 2013 or made the Eastern Conference Finals in 2014 without Dax,” he said.

“And it’s obvious that he was a huge reason for winning the 2015 shield and is a key player for the success of the current team.”