Dax McCarty, who played in the MLS all-star game this summer, can help oust his former team from the playoffs. (Keith Furman/FrontRowSoccer Photo)
By Michael Lewis
In January, the Red Bulls shook up Major League Soccer with a blockbuster trade that sent captain Dax McCarty packing to the Chicago Fire.
On Wednesday, McCarty and his Fire teammates are in a position to send New York packing in the knockout round and out of the MLS Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Red Bulls, however, are downplaying their meeting with McCarty, a popular player during six-year tenure at Red Bull Arena.
“I don’t think the goal of this game is go and beat Dax,” current Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan told reporters at the Red Bull Training facility in Hanover, N.J. Monday. “We were very close to Dax. We miss Dax.
“Ultimately as players, we don’t make these type of decisions. But we move on from them and we try to be the best that we can be. I think that this season was a learning process for a lot of us. The young guys got Open Cup experience, but this is not just about us vs. Dax. But the big part of the game is going to be me vs. Dax. It’s going to be interesting.”
Head coach Jesse Marsch said that he will not feel any vindication if his team bests Chicago and McCarty.
“If I reflect back on it, it was always a hard thing to do,” he said of the trade. “Still a hard thing to think about, but for me it was the right thing to do.”
Marsch said that seeing midfielders Sean Davis and Tyler Adams blossom this season “made me feel good about the fact we needed to make room for those guys.”
“I’ve also watched Dax this year,” he added. “He’s been very good. Been great to see him with the national team. But I don’t think whatever happens in this series has nothing to do with that. That has to do with each club to do whatever they can to go after a championship. So, that’s our sole focus, really.”
When it comes to individual battles come Wednesday night, McCarty’s focus likely will be on Kljestan.
A top-flight defensive midfielder who suited up for the U.S. during World Cup qualifying, McCarty clash with Kljestan in the midfielder. Kljestan led the league with 17 assists, topping MLS in that category for the second consecutive season.
Asked if he thought it was surreal the Red Bulls were meeting McCarty with the season for both teams on the line, Kljestan replied, “Yeah, that’s the pity about the playoffs. In the end only one team is happy and after every series or every game, one team’s season is over and it’s sad and one team moves on. Us against Chicago, one of us is going home, one of us is moving on. It will be a bummer for one of the two of us. Me or Dax. I hope it’s Dax that’s bummed by Wednesday night come 10:30.”