The New York Red Bulls didn't take long to confirm the story first reported by FourFourTwo's Paul Tenorio: Dax McCarty has been traded to Chicago Fire for $400,000 in allocation. The club's official release also confirmed Tenorio's report that the payment will be divided over two years - $200,000 in 2017, $200,000 in 2018.
One hopes RBNY told McCarty this deal was in the works. Otherwise, the Captain has had a surprising conclusion to a busy weekend. He got married on January 14, flew to California to be with the US Men's National Team on January 15, and (we hope not; we hope RBNY told him this was happening) on January 16 he found out he needs to get moving to Chicago when he finishes up national team duty on February 3.
Congrats, Dax - please inform your wife that you're moving to Illinois. Send her a postcard from time to time.
We don't want to find out that the club abruptly dumped its captain, all-time appearances record-holder, and a lynch-pin of the team's two trophy-winning seasons to date (he was a starter on the 2013 team that won the Supporters' Shield and the captain of the 2015 Shield-winning squad) without even the courtesy of a word of warning.
Just three days before the trade, club and captain seemed on cheerful enough terms.
Hopefully, that is still the case. Since Ali Curtis and Jesse Marsch moved into the driver's seat (it's crowded in this metaphor), RBNY averages about one trade a year that seems to be an unpleasant surprise to the player it is trading: Ambroise Oyongo in 2015; Lloyd Sam in 2016. Perhaps Dax will reveal how much he knew about this trade in due course.
McCarty was a fan favorite, so this isn't a trade the fan base should be expected or even encouraged to welcome. It is perfectly reasonable to prefer to see a club hang on to a long-term, loyal, and successful player.
For the Red Bulls, the logic of the trade is clear: RBNY has a lot of midfield talent coming through, and McCarty (who turns 30 in 2017) is just reaching the point here he will regarded as a declining force. He is perhaps at the peak of his trade value for the foreseeable future, not least because he has just been called back into the USMNT squad for the first time in a couple of years. By moving McCarty now, RBNY gets to save itself his salary, clear space in the roster for younger players to come through, and collect a little allocation.
In 2016, his reported guaranteed compensation was $500,000. In January 2016, it was reported McCarty had signed a four-year deal with RBNY. Contracts often include annual salary increases, but let's assume Dax's salary was static for the duration of the deal: RBNY just potentially cleared $1.5 million in payroll off its books over the next three years. The $200,000 in general allocation money for the next two seasons should be added to the salary potentially saved: that's possibly $700,000 per year or $1.4 million over the next two years that RBNY now has free to apply to its roster. If the various MLS salary rules align to free that money up in the right way, that could be worth at least two players of Dax-like seniority. It certainly should allow Ali Curtis some of the "flexibility" he so often identifies as his goal.
In the team's official statement, Jesse Marsch subbed in for Curtis to provide the traditional farewell comment:
He will go down as one of the best players and captains in franchise history. At this point in time, we felt that this was the right move to put our team in the best position to succeed both now and for years to come.
Of course, that counts for nothing if by this time next year the team is regretting allowing a Dax-McCarty-sized hole to develop in its midfield.
But the club has Homegrown prospects Sean Davis and Tyler Adams on the roster, and seems to think both are candidates to fill a similar role in central midfield to that previously occupied by the Captain. And every season brings a fresh cohort of potential Homegrown talents. For as long as RBNY remains committed to its current philosophy, senior players close to peak trade value are always at risk of being moved on if there are promising prospects waiting for their shot.
McCarty leaves RBNY as a club legend. He was on the field for the only trophies the team has ever won (both, as it happens, clinched in games against Chicago). He was passionate and spiky on the field, playful and engaging off it. He is the sort of player fans enjoy having on their team, and he will be a very irritating opponent when the Fire comes up against RBNY.
After five-and-a-half seasons, 198 appearances in all competitions, 30 assists, 15 goals, three Eastern Conference regular season titles, and two Supporters' Shields - the Captain and perhaps the most successful player in club history has left the building. The Red Bulls will find a new captain. They will do well to find another Dax.
Best of luck, Captain Dax. And thank you.