The New York Red Bulls knew this day was coming: the day Dax McCarty would return to Red Bull Arena wearing the wrong shade of red, the red of Chicago Fire. Jesse Marsch has said the date was “circled on the calendar”. Even if it wasn’t, it has surely been impossible for the Red Bulls to ignore the press coverage of McCarty’s first game back at RBA since he was traded to Chicago for a fistful of MLS allocation money.
The Red Bulls training facility is still mostly populated by McCarty’s former teammates. He was a strong influence on RBNY, on and off the pitch, and his presence will be felt at RBA just as much as his absence from the team has been noted.
In the build-up to McCarty’s return, there doesn’t seem to have been player in the Red Bulls squad who hasn’t been asked for an opinion on the redhead who is now one of the Fire’s Men in Red.
The veterans on the roster mostly described McCarty as a friend they knew could be relied on to be a challenge on the field.
That challenge is something to look forward to for Bradley Wright-Phillips:
It’s obviously exciting for any MLS game; obviously, Dax coming back it will be nice to see him - and hopefully get the three points. We’ve been doing well at home - it will be an exciting game.
Any other team in MLS would be focusing on the biggest name in the Fire’s squad this season: Bastian Schweinsteiger. BWP has respect for the impact the German World Cup winner has had on Chicago, but notes also that the Fire have a tendency to match-up well against RBNY, regardless of who is on the roster:
That’s what happens when you get a world class player, and they had the addition of Dax as well - obviously, they’re going to improve.
It’s no different. I thought that when they were at the bottom of the league, we used to go there and play them - it was one of our toughest games, each season I’ve been here. It’ll be no different, it’s going to be a hard game.
Sal Zizzo might be watching the game more than playing in it, as he has only recently returned to training from injury and has been mentioned by Jesse Marsch as a player who might be needed to rotate into the starting lineup later in the week (RBNY has a three games in a week, starting with the Fire). Whatever his role, he is in doubt that all eyes will be on Dax before kick-off:
Dax is a great player and a good friend. There’s going to be a lot of emotions with him coming back, I’m sure, within the fans and the organization.
He was a big part of what this organization did for a lot of years: a couple of Supporters’ Shields and some of really good seasons. Obviously there’s going to be really high emotions but when the game is going it’s just another game - and we just have to try to contain him because he’s a good player.
Captain Dax has been replaced by Captain Kljestan, a man who respects the role McCarty used to play on the team:
I’ve talked about this many times that it’s an honor to be the captain of this club. I try to do my best to represent the team in a manner that I think is fitting of a captain. I think my teammates all respect what I have done, not only now but in the past two years.
As for losing Dax, that was always tough. We had a great partnership in the midfield. I really loved playing with him. I think we made each other better on the field as teammates, but I also think we made each other better as opponents in practice every day.
When we had to play against each other in practice, I always knew it was going to be a tough game. I always knew I was going to get his best. Now it’s going to get put to the test in the real thing for 90 minutes with three points on the line. Gonna be fun, but gonna be very difficult, for sure.
In his rookie season, Alex Muyl broke into the first team that McCarty captained. He credits his former captain with helping his development as a player, though part of that development is perhaps being able to put emotions aside and focus on the game at hand:
I think as a young player coming into the team last year, he gave a lot of support to me, a lot of encouragement, he was really helpful. He’s not only a lead-by-example guy, but he’s someone who will definitely tell you when he wants you to do something differently.
As a young player, it helps you a lot - you have someone you can look to and he was very helpful for me. Everyone here knows him, respects him a lot. And we’re ready for him to come here, compete hard and hopefully have a good game - but we get the three points.
Tyler Adams is the man who appears to have taken over McCarty’s midfield spot. The highly-rated USA youth international now faces the challenge of playing against one of his formative influences:
He was a role model for me. Playing the same position as me, he was a veteran of the league. Played top games, hard games, and he set the tone for me, he gave me tips - and the experiences he had have helped me to where I am now.
McCarty left a lot of good memories: huge plays on defense, and his remarkable knack for finding space at set pieces. For me, his most memorable work was his brace against NYCFC last season - the goals that set the tone for each half of RBNY’s magnificent 7-0 win on May 21st, 2016.
He scored the game’s first goal in the third minute...
...and his second was the Red Bulls’ fourth, six minutes into the second half - perfectly timed to prevent NYCFC recovering any composure after the break.
I have missed seeing Dax at the training ground and the Arena. He was brash at times, didn’t shy away from bold statements, but was always honest - and he patiently endured post-game media questions, even on the occasions he surely just wanted to get home and get a disappointing game out his mind as quickly as possible.
This year’s Fire seems more resilient, and a lot of that must be credited to the leader Chicago snatched from RBNY. It will be nice to see him back for this Saturday’s match for what should be an entertaining game. McCarty will doubtless get a warm welcome from Red Bull Arena: his work for the club deserves no less. And no more: the Red Bulls gave Chicago their captain; no need to hand over three points as well - let those stay in Harrison.