As usual, Dax McCarty was a bulldog in the midfield. (Mike Dinovo/USA TODAY Sports)
BRIDGEVIEW, ILL. — Once again, Dax McCarty demonstrated why he is a captain in more ways than one Saturday.
With Juninho unable to play due to a suspension, McCarty wore the captain’s arm band for the Chicago Fire first band. Not only did he stabilize the defensive core, he set up the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over the Columbus Crew at Toyota Park.
Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic gushed about the defensive midfielder’s play. He said he was “very, very satisfied with Dax’s performance.”
In other words, McCarty played his usual game at defensive mid, making life difficult for the opposing team and playing a box-to-box game when need.
“Every time and every game he’s feeling more comfortable and getting in that role that we wanted and expected from him to be the leader on and off the field,” Paunovic said. “We knew that it was going to take some time but he’s getting to that level we saw him playing at Red Bulls and the level required to play on the national team and we believe that he’s doing very well. Hopefully all together we can manage to fulfill all our goals and objectives and also for him to play for the national team in the future.”
McCarty was called into U.S. national team camp in January and March.
Playing the captain’s role is old hat for McCarty, who wore the armband for most of the time during his tenure with the Red Bulls from 2011-2016. That was before he was dealt to Chicago in a controversial trade in January.
Only five games into his Chicago career, McCarty wore the armband.
“He’s one of the captains,” Paunovic said in a postgame press conference. “We missed today Juninho so we took this decision because we believed that he’s ready to lead the team. This is nothing new for him that’s his role. He held the role when he played for different teams so we know that he knows how to deal with that. So that’s why we brought him here and why we value him so much and we keep working together so we build our team.”
The 29-year-old McCarty played in his 250th Major League Soccer match.
“It was an honor [to captain the team],” he told MLSsoccer.com. “I didn’t know it was my 250th start. It’s always a pleasure when you can do what you love for a living and you can do it for a long time. My career, when I first started, I always had belief that I would be a good player and I would have a long career, but 12 years is nothing to take for granted.
“I feel like I’m still growing as a player, I think I have a lot more to give and I think that this is a great club to be at, because they want to turn this club into a winner again and I want to be on a winning team. The more games I get to play the happier I’ll be, so every time I step on the field I try to treat it like it’s my last game, because you don’t want to take this career for granted.”
The win pushed the Fire’s record to 2-1-2 and eight points. The team also is undefeated at home at 2-0-1.
The Fire unlocked Columbus’ defense in the 22nd minute. Dax McCarty played an incisive through ball that found Nemanja Nikolic free on the run. The Hungarian striker finished with a left-footed strike for his second goal this season.
“Obviously, it was an important three points,” McCarty told reporters. “A little bit of a different formation for us. I certainly thought we played pretty well in the first half; created good chances, got a good goal, limited Columbus in their attacking forays and had a lot of possession.
“Second half came out a little bit different. Columbus got more aggressive like we knew they would. They’re a good team. Defensively, it was a really strong performance. I thought the back five and the midfield did a good job to limit their really good dangerous chances. I still think they had a lot of possession that didn’t really lead to much, but it was good to see the game out.”
McCarty played behind former German international midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has made a huge different in this team.
“He’s great to have behind you,” Schweinsteiger said. “He covers a lot. He also understands the game really well. He knows exactly where to pass the ball, and when to turn and keep the ball. You can really see that he’s experienced.”
Certainly experienced enough to be the team captain.