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."