For all of the attention paid to Bastian Schweinsteiger and all of Nemanja Nikolic’s goals, Dax McCarty had a solid argument for being the most valuable player on the Fire in 2017.
With that in mind, the Fire announcing a contract extension with McCarty is a big deal for the longer-term future of the club. The 30-year-old is now guaranteed through the 2019 season and there is a club option for 2020 on the deal.
The Fire picked up the option on McCarty’s contract for 2018 and had another option for 2019. In essence, this extension has added another year to the deal.
The midfielder was a key player for the Fire in 2017, helping to stabilize central midfield, long a weakness of the team, along with Schweinsteiger and Juninho. He was an MLS All-Star for the second time in his career.
"Although the year did not end how any of us would have liked, I believe we’re on course to becoming a perennial contender for trophies like Fire teams of old,” McCarty said in a statement released by the club. “Together with the fans, our club can build on the foundation laid last season and now set our sights even higher. I’m excited to be in Chicago long term."
The importance of a solid central midfielder, or two, is the basis of any strong team. The last two MLS Cups have featured two teams with strong players in that position, Michael Bradley for Toronto and Ozzie Alonso and Cristian Roldan for Seattle.
Having that position figured out for the next two seasons, at least, gives general manager Nelson Rodriguez a solid base to build around. McCarty also filled another void that Rodriguez mentioned repeatedly, his vocal leadership.
The one drawback of sorts with McCarty in his first season with the Fire was his consistent call-ups to the U.S. national team, meaning he left the team multiple times throughout 2017. Those call-ups would have continued had the team made the World Cup, but instead, his international career is in doubt and the Americans don’t have any meaningful games in 2018.
Another point worth bringing up is another Rodriguez cliche: a consistent core. Since taking over, he has talked about how successful teams in MLS’ history have had a core of several key players for multiple years. The Fire may not be there with that core yet, but it’s possible to see a team built around McCarty, Nikolic, defender Johan Kappelhof and potentially others (David Accam if he sticks around, Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent if they continue to improve) competing towards the top of the league for the next few years. More additions to that core will be needed to win a trophy, but it’s a solid base to build from.