Dax McCarty ready to 'soak in the moment' in his return to Red Bull Arena

Dax McCarty ready to 'soak in the moment' in his return to Red Bull Arena

When Dax McCarty was traded from the New York Red Bulls to the Chicago Fire in January it was the third time in his 12-year MLS career that he had been traded, but this was the one that affected him the most.

McCarty had been with the Red Bulls for five and a half years, the longest he had been with any team, and leaving New York was not easy for him even though he had been traded before. So when McCarty's new team, the Fire, visit the Red Bulls on Saturday, it won't just be an ordinary game for the 29-year-old midfielder.

"I'd say the Red Bulls meant more to me than any other team that I've been on so far," McCarty said. "In that sense it will probably be a little bit different, but I think the key to just trying to make it as normal as possible is just to treat it like another game, treat it like another three points that you have to try to win against a good team on the road. I just want to make sure that the game doesn't become too big about my return."

When McCarty was traded he had just gotten married and was immediately after headed to training camp with the U.S. national team. He was initially vocal about his frustration in how the Red Bulls handled the trade, but soon after that he didn't want to talk about that aspect of the trade anymore.

With Saturday's match marking his return to Red Bull Arena, the focus shifts back to McCarty and the trade. Now, he wants to focus on the personal side of the trade, the people that are no longer an everyday part of his life. He mentioned security guards, chefs and maintenance crew among the people he will be happy to see again.

"I don't think I got to say a proper goodbye to a lot of the guys on the team and I don't think I got to say a proper goodbye to the fans and the way that they treated me when I was in New York so I'll soak in the environment, I'll soak in the moment," McCarty said. "Hopefully I don't get too many boos.

"Whether we win, lose or draw I want to take in the time after the game to make sure the Red Bull fans know how much they meant to me in my time there. I'll try to go around the stadium and whatever few fans stick around after the game I'll wave and say thank you for supporting me during my time there."

He said his former Red Bulls teammates are some of his best friends and he keeps in touch with many of them. Going up against them and heading to the other locker room will be different.

"Those are guys I went to battle with for a long time and those are guys that I'll probably be friends for life with some of them," McCarty said. "Certainly seeing them on the other side, it will be weird, but it's going to be an enjoyable moment I think. Once the 90 minutes hits and once we step on the field it's going to be a dog fight."

McCarty's two previous trades, from Dallas to D.C. via Portland's expansion draft pick after the 2010 season and from D.C. to the Red Bulls in June of 2011, were very different. After spending five years in Dallas, he was traded by D.C. United after less than half a season.

"I'd say the only time it really was kind of a little bit surreal and kind of emotional was when I went back to Dallas because I was in Dallas for a really long time," McCarty said. "That club meant a lot to me. I wasn't really in D.C. for very long and we played New York so much. It was weird because I got traded from D.C. to New York and I think we played them two or three games after the trade and it was in the middle of the season so that was kind of just a whirlwind.

"Going back to Dallas for the first time, being back in the stadium and seeing the fans and going into the visitors' locker room, all that stuff that comes with it is definitely strange.

Despite his experience with being traded and returning to a former team, McCarty is still expecting it to hit him on Saturday.

"I'll say it's definitely going to be a strange feeling."

Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon


Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon

As far as notorious players in MLS with a history of scoring big goals, Alan Gordon is one of the first names on that list.

The Fire signed the 36-year-old forward on Friday, continuing to add depth to a roster that appeared paper thin throughout the preseason. Gordon, who had been on trial with the Fire for part of the preseason and even after the season opener, signed a one-year deal.

Gordon adds plenty of experience from being in the league since 2004 and having scored 55 goals with five different teams. For the past few years he has been used primarily as a substitute, but has still maintained his reputation for scoring goals late in games.

At 6-foot-3 he brings plenty of size and strength to the team and is one of the best players on headers in the league. Last season the Fire failed to score directly off a set piece, which was both due to consistently poor service from corner kicks and a lack of players adept at finishing them off. Gordon should give the Fire a late-game option in that area.

Elliot Collier had impressed the Fire enough to earn a contract as a third-round pick and an international player and even came off the bench in the opening loss to Sporting Kansas City, but it appears the team wanted more experience at forward with Gordon.

Wild season opener shows plenty of things to work on for Fire

Wild season opener shows plenty of things to work on for Fire

If you were looking for entertainment, goals, plot twists and storylines, the Fire’s season opener had all of those boxes checked.

What it didn’t have was even a point for the hosts against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at Toyota Park.

The first half showed a Fire team which very much looked like the “incomplete” roster that general manager Nelson Rodriguez referenced just before the season. KC led 2-0 and the Fire failed to get a shot on target, showing a lack of chance creation and any semblance of a dangerous attack.

The second half showed a Fire attack which was capable of turning the heat up on the visitors, but also a defense which couldn’t defend. Sporting's 4-3 win revealed that there’s plenty of work to do for the Fire to resemble the team that finished third in the MLS regular season last year.

“Especially in the first half we saw that we weren’t ready to compete with a team that had an advantage that they had one competition game before us,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “That was the main difference in the first half, but the adjustment in the second half was tremendous. I think just showing that we can score three goals that quickly and create even more opportunities was a positive.”

However, Paunovic wasn’t about to let his team off the hook by only speaking about positives.

“What we learned today is that we have to get better on every side of the game and in every aspect of the game,” he said. “We are not there. We didn’t have a good game. I think overall a lot of innocent and naive mistakes.”

After trailing 2-0 at halftime, the Fire revved things up in the final 25 minutes and Bastian Schweinsteiger keyed the first goal with a slick assist to newcomer Aleksandar Katai. Nemanja Nikolic showed the scoring instincts and finishing ability that won him the league scoring title a year ago by scoring two more goals to give the Fire the lead in the 82nd minute.

Then it all fell apart, with two KC goals within four minutes of Nikolic giving the Fire the lead. Dax McCarty, your thoughts?

“You’re 10 minutes away from the headline and the storyline being Chicago Fire show great character, make a fantastic comeback, win the game 3-2 and yet here we are sitting here, somehow losing that game, which is insane,” McCarty said. “It’s totally insane.”

The defensive struggles, which Paunovic pointed out mirrored last year’s early playoff exit in a 4-0 loss, will need to get resolved internally. Johan Kappelhof, Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster all started on a competent defense last year and McCarty and Schweinsteiger helped play damage control in midfield. This isn’t what the weakness of the team was supposed to be yet after one game, it’s all anyone on the team could talk about.

“We gave up four goals,” Kappelhof said. “That’s not good. Simple.”

While more additions may be coming in-season, as Rodriguez has mentioned, and injuries haven’t allowed the Fire to start 2018 fresh, this game wasn’t a good sign for what’s to come for the 2018 Fire. A lack of any offensive creation in the first half and a lack of defensive concentration, as Paunovic put it, throughout the game showed a team that has plenty of pock-marks currently.

“We don’t know how to defend, quite frankly," McCarty said. "From back to front, front to back, the defending aspect of our game was pretty poor. A lot of things to learn."

The good news is even if the Fire take some time to correct the errors from Saturday’s season opener, MLS is a forgiving league. A majority of the league, 12 of 23 teams, makes the playoffs and league-wide parity means teams can go through slumps and still end in good standing. A year ago, the Fire lost six games out of seven and still had the third best record in the league. It’s OK if the team takes time to iron out some organizational issues defensively, just don’t take too long.