By Lucas Panzica (@lucaspanzica).
Every team needs one. A cornerstone, a building block for the rest of your starting 11. A player who will never fill up the stat sheet, but often serves as the springboard for any counter-attack, or buildup towards goal.
Every team needs a heart and soul. That is Dax McCarty for Nashville SC.
Traded to Nashville from the Chicago Fire in November of 2019, the 32-year-old will begin the season as the most recognizable name on the roster to a large portion of MLS fans. A holding midfielder who is crucial in both the first and final third, McCarty serves as the link between Nashville SCs defense and attack.
McCarty dictates play, a trait with importance that cannot be overstated, particularly for a club like Nashville SC that must establish an identity as they enter the 2020 MLS campaign as the new kids on the block. The Florida native is a 14 year MLS veteran, now at his fourth club, and it all began as a first-round draft pick out of North Carolina to FC Dallas in the 2006 MLS SuperDraft.
Going on to serve as a key cog for an FC Dallas squad that nearly won an MLS Cup, McCarty made his impact in central midfield as a deep playmaker with an innate ability to recover defensively and win back possessions. It was a run of 105 appearances in four seasons in Dallas, ironically ending with a 2-1 2010 MLS Cup Final loss at the hands of the Colorado Rapids, then led by current Nashville SC manager Gary Smith.
McCarty’s next stop at DC United defined his identity as a player in a way, as he was asked to step into an attacking midfielder role. A poor positional fit led to a short marriage, and McCarty only appeared 13 times throughout 2011 for DC United without notching a goal or assist.
This prompted a trade to the New York Red Bulls, where the Florida native found his groove in the MLS. Affectionately nicknamed the “Ginger Ninja”, McCarty went on to captain the Red Bulls, setting the record for all-time appearances with 198. Anchoring the New York midfield behind star forwards Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry helped McCarty be named an MLS All-Star in the 2015 season. The veteran worked his way back into the US Men’s National Team picture, making the squad for the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup after a long hiatus.
A 2017 trade sent McCarty to the Chicago Fire, where he made another MLS All-Star team and spent three successful seasons.
Whether it is in MLS play, the US Open Cup, or the CONCACAF Champions League, McCarty has appeared in 407 matches for four different MLS clubs. 23 goals and 58 assists over the span of 15 seasons don’t jump off the page, but that is not why McCarty was brought to Nashville.
“Dax is a proven leader and winner and has done so in every club he’s been in throughout his career,” said Nashville SC General Manager Mike Jacobs after the signing was announced. “He embodies the character and values of what our club will be on and off the field.”
An underrated, unsung hero for much of his career, McCarty will pull the strings as the engine of Nashville SC’s midfield. Although he has never been regarded as a goalscorer, that certainly does not mean he is incapable, and has actually sparingly come up in huge moments putting the ball in the back of the net.
None of the current boys in gold have as much experience as McCarty in this league, and it will prove invaluable as Nashville looks to pave its way in MLS.
“As I’ve progressed throughout my career, I’ve tried to take it on myself to be a coach on the field,” said McCarty after signing with Nashville. “I feel like I’ve been brought in to take a little bit of a leadership role. I’ve played on some winning teams. I’ve played on some not-so-good teams. I think I know what it takes to win in this league.”
Make no mistake, Dax McCarty was brought to Music City to be the foundation, the mainspring. This club will likely go as he goes, without the fanfare that comes with star players.
That is the way McCarty has built a solid and longstanding MLS career, and he is bringing it to Nashville Soccer Club.