UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Dax McCarty has enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career, and now he has the opportunity to extend it against the team that deemed him expendable last year.
No, McCarty is not entering the first leg of the New York Red Bulls' Eastern Conference semifinals against D.C. United on Saturday (8 pm ET; NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) with payback in mind. But he is aiming to help the Red Bulls eliminate their I-95 rivals, a team he represented a little more than a year-and-a-half ago before being he was shipped to New York for Dwayne De Rosario.
"I obviously look forward to the game because it's my former team, but I don't think I need any extra motivation or need to pump myself up any more to play them," McCarty told MLSsoccer.com. "I've said this before; I think it was a good trade for both teams. It wasn't working out there for myself and I'm really happy here in New York, so I'm kind of glad that it happened. But at the end of the day I'm a competitor and I just want to win."
McCarty is in a rare position heading into the series by having suited up for both teams (he played in 13 games in 2011 before he was traded), and he knows that more is at stake than just advancing in the playoffs. Bragging rights for the victorious team and their fans are also on the line after a week of both camps talking trash leading up to Saturday’s series opener.
"Obviously they like their chances and we like our chances," said McCarty. "It's just confidence from both parties. There's nothing to really write home about. Whatever their guys say, it's their opinion, and whatever we say, that's what we think.
"It won't matter come game time. The better team will prove it on the field, and the other team will go home."
The 25-year-old McCarty has not only exceeded, but crushed expectations this season. He has been a leader in the locker room, shown off a much-improved game and demonstrated his versatility by playing all across the midfield, traits that have made him a fixture in the starting lineup and an integral part to New York's success.
Those traits are also what will make him a key factor in New York's quest to stymie the likes of Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon at RFK Stadium in the first leg of the playoff series on Saturday night.
"Dax has been playing phenomenal for us," assistant coach Jan Halvor Halvorsen said. "We've been using him central, we have been using him as a wall in front of the back four in some games [and he's] done that perfect, he has played more offensive in the midfield and done that perfect, and now he has been playing on the sides and have done that also very good."
McCarty, however, still isn’t satisfied.
"I won't consider it a successful season for myself or for the team if we don't win MLS Cup, so that's the main goal," he said. "I've been there before with [FC] Dallas and I got a taste of it, and I want to get back there and hoist the cup this time."
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.