Fire

Dax McCarty criticizes Red Bulls front office, says Fire need to improve culture

Dax McCarty criticizes Red Bulls front office, says Fire need to improve culture

There has been plenty of drama surrounding Dax McCarty's trade from the New York Red Bulls to the Chicago Fire.

On Tuesday, McCarty talked to local and national reporters via a conference call about his last couple weeks, which he described as a "whirlwind." McCarty got married, joined the U.S. national team for training camp and got traded to the Fire all within the span of a few days.

On top of that, McCarty has been vocal about his displeasure with how the Red Bulls handled the trade. He spoke for a half hour with reporters, giving bold responses on a number of different topics.

There's what McCarty said about how the Red Bulls handled the trade.

"I didn’t think they handled the situation in a very classy way."

There's McCarty's view on what he calls a losing culture that has plagued the Fire.

"From the outside looking in it looks like losing almost became accepted and a culture of losing with this club almost became the norm. From the front office, down to the players, down to the all the staff. It almost just seemed like they were indifferent about winning and that's crazy to me. That's insane."

There's McCarty offering an insight into the current drama within the Red Bulls regarding sporting director Ali Curtis' potential ousting.

"I don't think Ali Curtis had anything to do with the decision."

Saying that a team's sporting director didn't have anything to do with a decision to trade the team's captain is a huge bombshell to those in Red Bull land. McCarty said it was coach Jesse Marsch's decision and Marsch was the one who told him about the trade.

[MORE FIRE: Matt Polster could be out seven weeks with a knee strain]

As for McCarty's view of his new club's brass, Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic flew out to speak with McCarty when he was in camp with the U.S. national team. Both sides have said the meeting went well and was productive, with Paunovic and Rodriguez saying they would be patient with McCarty amid all the emotional elements.

"It was a good meeting and I think for the most part they understood where I was coming from," McCarty said. "They respected the fact that I still needed a little bit of time to process everything and let it sink in, gather my emotions and my thoughts. I'm very happy that they gave me that time and they weren't bombarding me with all kinds of requests for me to do things and all that."

McCarty flew to Florida to join the Fire in preseason training on Monday night. Tuesday morning was his first training session with his new team.

The personal side of the trade has been the focus with both the timing and McCarty's reaction taking focus away from the business side. McCarty admitted he understood the trade from a business sense saying Sean Davis, who replaced him when he got injured against the Fire, "played fantastic" in his place last year.

Davis, 23, is younger and cheaper than the 29-year-old McCarty. With that in mind, McCarty said he "always knew it was a possibility" he could be traded, but still felt like he had earned the chance to have a say in a move.

"If you're moving a veteran player on a high salary for business reasons and you have players you think can step in and do the job that have lower salaries, that are younger that you need to get minutes to, I'm the first one to say it's a great move," McCarty said. "There's no player that's bigger than any club and that's something that I understand full well. I do think that if you're a club that preaches family and I do think if you're a club that preaches doing things the right way and trying to treat players the right way, then I don't think you go and trade a guy who you say that you relied on a lot and that is your captain behind his back without at least telling him that, 'Hey these are some possibilities, unfortunately we have to move you, do you have any say in the matter? You just got married, you have a wife. This is a big moment in your career.'

"I thought I at least earned that and I thought that it would have been hard for the Red Bulls to do that or say that to me because if something falls through they never know where my head will be, but I would have had a lot more respect for the way they handled the situation if that's how it would have gone down."

With his time with the Red Bulls now behind him, McCarty is focused on trying to turn the Fire around as much as he can, adding that in MLS all it takes is a couple moves to become a contender.

"I'm not the type of player that is going to be OK with being average and having another losing season and I guess that's part of the reason why they're bringing me in," McCarty said.

After five week wait, Michael de Leeuw finally has knee surgery

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USA TODAY

After five week wait, Michael de Leeuw finally has knee surgery

Due to an early playoff exit, the players of the 2017 Chicago Fire have begun to disperse around the country to see family and friends back home during the offseason.

It’s not hard to make an argument that injuries played a significant part in the team’s playoff defeat. Michael de Leeuw went down on Sept. 30 with a torn ACL, Bastian Schweinsteiger played only 19 minutes in the last seven games of the season and Juninho wasn’t quite back to 100 percent when the playoffs rolled around. De Leeuw’s absence especially seemed to change the way the team played.

“Michael is loved by everyone in the locker room,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “That’s off the field, but on the field he also put his best always. His quality, his mentality, character, leadership. He’s a winner, he wanted to win. That piece maybe we missed.”

More than five weeks after suffering the knee injury against New York City FC on Sept. 30, de Leeuw had his surgery on Thursday morning. Teenager Djordje Mihailovic suffered an ACL tear in the playoff loss nearly a full month after de Leeuw’s, but still had his surgery a week before the Dutchman.

“It was also my MCL,” de Leeuw said the day before his surgery. “It was a little bit sprained so that’s why they had to wait a little bit longer. Djordje only had his ACL, that’s why he already got surgery. When I saw he already got surgery I was like ‘S***, when is my turn? When can I go to the table?’ My knee is fine. It was a couple weeks longer, but it’s good now. It’s calm.”

De Leeuw said he was “a little bit” nervous going into the surgery because it was his first surgery. He had already been building his muscles, specifically quad strength, in advance of the procedure. The 31-year-old, who shared the team lead in assists with eight, will stay in Chicago for the rehab process.

He is under contract through 2018 with a club option for 2019. When asked about his long-term future, de Leeuw is confident he can return to 100 percent next season.

“I know my body,” he said. “I will be back for sure and I will be back stronger because I can do a lot of stuff in the gym now. That’s one thing I’m sure about. I will be back and I will be back stronger.

“I’m not done with the club and things I want to do here and accomplish here.”

[RELATED: Few answers, but some hints about future as Fire officially enter offseason]

His, and Mihailovic’s, absence for the first part of 2018 will also have an impact on how the Fire approach this offseason. De Leeuw established himself as a regular starter and Mihailovic was starting to become a regular in the lineup towards the end of the year, especially after de Leeuw’s injury.

“We, for a while, had believed we had good depth, we had emerging talent on the attacking side,” general manager Nelson Rodriguez said. “We could maybe disproportionately focus our attention in other areas, other lines of play, but we have to be realistic. They each could miss a large portion of the season so we have to reconsider our initial thoughts and revise our plan a little bit. For sure now, I think we’ll need to look to add some attacking piece because that’s a lot of minutes that we planned on that will need to be filled.”

Few answers, but some hints about future as Fire officially enter offseason

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USA TODAY

Few answers, but some hints about future as Fire officially enter offseason

It was locker clean out day for the Fire and while there was definitely a last day of school feel in the locker room, a number of the players left Toyota Park on Wednesday not knowing their immediate futures.

Just seven of the 30 players that finished 2017 on the roster have guaranteed contracts for 2018: Johan Kappelhof, Christian Dean, Jorge Corrales, David Accam, Michael de Leeuw, Nemanja Nikolic and Luis Solignac. A healthy number more can safely head into the winter knowing they will have their team options picked up (Dax McCarty, Brandon Vincent, Matt Polster to name a few), but plenty more face uncertainty.

General manager Nelson Rodriguez said the front office is “still discussing” which players will be brought back and which won’t. Rodriguez added that he is about halfway through exit interviews with the players and expects to finish them by the end of the week.

“The rules allow us to not to have to make that decision until late November, early December, the first day of December, so we won’t,” Rodriguez said. “We’ll take our time in doing that and we’ll explore internal options and options that may present themselves from the international market.”

The big question mark is German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger. The 33-year-old is out of contract and is currently in Serbia with his Serbian wife, Ana Ivanovic.

“Our conversations I would characterize are going very well, very positively,” Rodriguez said. “We remain optimistic that Basti and we will reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.

“I won’t put a timeline on it. I think Basti has proven his importance to our club and to our team and that remains a priority to bring him back.”

Along with Schweinsteiger, center back Joao Meira is the only other player not already guaranteed for 2018 that the Fire do not hold an option on.

Rodriguez admitted injuries will also play a part in the decision process. Accam had surgery to repair two hernias in his hip on Tuesday and is expected to be fully healthy by December, but de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic will miss a significant chunk of the 2018 season. Mihailovic already had his ACL surgery while de Leeuw's ACL surgery is scheduled for Thursday morning. The absence of those two players, who figured to be regulars next season, for what could be around half of the season alters Rodriguez's plan for 2018.

After a much-improved regular season, which saw the Fire finish with the third best record in the league, was followed up by a one-and-done playoff exit, the key this winter will be how much things should change.

“The arc of this offseason will be that delicate balance,” Rodriguez said. “We know we need to improve. We know we like our core, but change is inevitable. You can’t have both. We can’t fully retain this group and add pieces.”

While coach Veljko Paunovic, who denied any connection to the open Serbia national team job at the start of the press conference, has already been on a scouting trip and has others planned in Europe and South America, he said his first choice is to have the current players come back improved for next season.

“The guys that we decide to come back, they have to come back better than they left,” Paunovic said before calling adding other players Plan B.

So while there are only hints to go on for now, the first dominoes of the Fire’s offseason will take place in about three weeks time.