He’s Back! Dax Returns, as Red Bulls Host Improved Fire

It will be a homecoming for former Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty this Saturday after having spent the last six years of his career in New York. 

McCarty was part of an offseason trade that sent shockwaves around MLS, as the Red Bulls sent their captain and one of the league’s top central midfielders to the Chicago Fire in exchange for over $400,000 in allocation money. A fan favorite, an MLS All-Star and an MLS Best XI selection in 2015, McCarty was the longest-tenured player on the team before being traded.

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But his salary and a dip in performance in 2016 made the 29-year-old an attractive asset to trade and would allow the emergence of young players such as Tyler Adams and Sean Davis in the center of the midfield.

It was a tough decision for the Red Bulls, but a move that made sense given the club’s team-building philosophy.

Saying that “we talked about it plenty,” Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch didn’t want to dwell on the “why” behind the deal that sent McCarty to Chicago. Instead, the former MLS veteran talked about what Saturday’s return to Red Bull Arena will mean for a player who has meant so much to the club over the past few years.

“It’ll be hard to see him on the other side of the field,” Marsch said Tuesday following training. “I think it will be a big moment for our fans to show appreciation to him for all the years that he played and what he meant to the club. I know it will be a really special moment for him.

Oct 16, 2016; Harrison, NJ, USA; New York Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips (99) celebrates with midfielder Dax McCarty (11) after scoring a goal against Columbus Crew during second half at Red Bull Arena. The New York Red Bulls defeated Columbus Crew 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

“I’ve had that experience too when you come back and play for a club that you really cherished. I think that we’ll see his absolute best. Knowing Dax, he’s a competitor and he’s going to come here and he’s going to want to make a statement. He’s going to want to play his best and he’s going to want to win. So I think that that will be a motivating factor for their team; I think we’ll have to understand that we’ll be in for a really difficult match.”

[READ: Emotions to Run High as McCarty Returns]

Marsch hopes to give McCarty a hug at some point on Saturday, presumably not during the game.

Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

While the return of McCarty is a major point for the Red Bulls to focus on, the Fire comes into the match a much-improved team over last year’s side. The Red Bulls are peaking, winners of two straight following a 2-0 win on Saturday night against the Columbus Crew.

 But they will have to be aware of a Fire team that certainly is strong down their spine, particularly in the midfield.

Along with MLS veteran Juninho, McCarty has collectively formed a central midfield trio with the recently signed Bastian Schweinsteiger. A highly-decorated German international who has starred for Bayern Munich and recently played for Manchester United, Schweinsteiger has come into MLS and looked anything but washed up.

Apr 8, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Fire midfielder Dax McCarty (6) and midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger (31) during the second half at Toyota Park. Chicago defeats Columbus 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

“[Schweinsteiger is] a savvy, smart soccer player. He’s been around, he knows how the game works. I think he’s integrated himself into that team quite well. He’s a good passer, but he also knows how to organize and motivate the team in the right way,” Marsch said.

“I think he’s clearly made them better. The center of their midfield now has three experienced, very good center midfielders. That’s going to be a big emphasis on the day: How good can we be in the middle of the field and can we win the match-ups against those three great players that make them tick?”

Red Bulls Notes

  • Adams trained in full on Tuesday after limping off the field this past Saturday against Columbus.  Adams tweaked his ankle a bit, but was a full-go in training on Tuesday.
  • Sal Zizzo, a late scratch with a calf strain prior to the Crew game, did some running during the session but did not train with his teammates. Marsch hopes that his right back will be available on Saturday.
  • Having missed the entirety of the MLS regular season to date, Gonzalo Veron (hamstring) made the gameday roster on Saturday but did not play against the Crew. He practiced in full on Tuesday.
  • Through four home games, the Red Bulls have not conceded a goal at Red Bull Arena this season.
  • Alex Muyl has scored in each of the last two games for the Red Bulls. When he’s been in the Starting XI, the Red Bulls are undefeated this season with three wins. From those matches, they have scored six goals and conceded just once.