100 Matches In: Dax McCarty

Here at Broadway Sports Media, we recently introduced a new series on our feed. 

Each time a Nashville SC player reaches a milestone in appearances for the club (25, 50, 100, 150, 200, and so on…), we will take a snapshot look at their history for the Boys in Gold. 

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On Sunday night, Dax McCarty became the latest player to reach the century mark by appearing in his 100th match for Nashville SC.

Overview

In MLS circles, Dax McCarty is a living legend. His consistency and longevity place him into an elite group of players within the league’s history. There is little doubt that he will eventually be enshrined in the National Soccer Hall of Fame. 

McCarty came to Nashville SC already at the tail-end of his storied career. The idea of captaining an expansion franchise a little closer to home excited McCarty. Chicago obliged the player’s requests and sent McCarty to Tennessee for the bargain price of a second-round SuperDraft pick and $100,000 in allocation money. It was and remains one of the best value acquisitions in Nashville’s short history. 

What the numbers say

Since the beginning, McCarty has exclusively played in a defensive midfield role, save for a couple of rare appearances as a nominal third center back. Such a position makes it difficult to rack up top-line numbers. 

With the ‘Yotes, McCarty has scored two goals and contributed eleven assists. 

Looking at more holistic measures of McCarty’s impact, he is 19th overall among central and defensive midfielders in total goals added (g+) since 2020, one spot behind teammate Sean Davis. It speaks to McCarty’s consistency as one of the most dependable midfielders in MLS. 

That being said, there is an indication of a severe dropoff in 2023, McCarty’s age 36 season.  His goals added per 96 minutes hovered slightly above average in each of his first three seasons in Nashville. Conversely, his per-match tally has plummeted to -0.10 g+ / 96 minutes. It ranks 77th of 81 midfielders with 500 minutes logged this season. 

By some measures, McCarty’s defensive involvement has dropped in 2023 as well. His tackles per match are at their lowest level since Opta started tracking in 2018. Despite the reduced number of tackles, McCarty’s interceptions remain around his historical average. 

While McCarty may have lost a step since his twenties, his passing ability and intellect have remained sharp into his mid-thirties. Since 2020, he has completed 1.49 passes completed over expected. He averages nearly one Key Pass per match (0.98 per 96 minutes) and completes 6.22 progressive passes per 90 minutes.

In possession, McCarty has actually increased his progressive carries (1.11 per match) – already matching his totals from 2020 and 2022. Additionally, he has been dispossessed just once this season

The eye test

The legs may age, but the mind stays as sharp as ever. 

Over the last year or two, McCarty seems to have lost a step. Even if his top speed or 90-minute stamina is not where it once was, it does not affect other parts of his game. He has always been a cerebral and technical player with a certain calmness on the ball that is difficult to replicate. 

At the base of Nashville’s newly deployed diamond midfield, McCarty acts as the metronome for the buildup. From his deep-lying role, he can still pick out a pass with the best of them in MLS.  

While his tackle rate may have dropped this year, McCarty still impacts Nashville defensively. Drawing upon his experience, he is able to step in and win balls back for the ‘Yotes. This trait is all the more important as Nashville pushes its lines forward and presses opponents. Winning balls in the midfield immediately fuels the counterattack. 

Moreso than anything else, McCarty’s greatest contribution is his continued leadership in the locker room. He may have ceded the captain’s armband to Walker Zimmerman and Hany Mukhtar, but his leadership role has never waned. 

Looking forward

Dax McCarty is rapidly approaching the end of his storied career. While still an important member of Nashville SC’s squad, Dax could hang up his cleats for good after this season. He recently told the MLS 360 crew:

“[Retirement has] crossed my mind. I’ve thought about a lot of different options. I love the game. I want to stay involved in the game no matter what I do, if I keep playing for another year or two years, or if I retire at the end of the year, I still want to be involved in this game. It’s crossed my mind for sure.”

Dax McCarty

One thing is for sure. If this is indeed his final season, McCarty’s coaches and teammates won’t want him to go out without finally capturing an MLS Cup. On current form, this 2023 Nashville SC team look capable of it.

Author: Chris IveyChris is a senior writer covering Nashville SC. His writings focus on the team at large and often navigate the complexity of roster building around the myriad of MLS rules. Outside of Broadway Sports Media, Chris resides in Knoxville and is a licensed attorney. Beyond NSC, he is always willing to discuss Tennessee football and basketball, Coventry City, and USMNT. Follow Chris on Twitter

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