Another solid match for McCarty in defensive midfield role

New York Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty

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HARRISON, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls are grinding out wins without several key starters, and Dax McCarty is playing a pivotal role in making that happen.

Playing as a defensive midfielder once again due to Rafa Márquez being out with a minor ankle injury, McCarty was instrumental in helping New York top the Houston Dynamo at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday night. The 25-year-old neutralized Houston’s midfield and forwards with several timely interventions, and that set the tone for a third straight 1-0 win for New York.

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“He’s been huge for us all season, but especially the past three games with a bunch of our guys out,” Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara told reporters after the game. “Ninety minutes, he brings it. He runs and runs and it helps the back four out so much because he cuts off so much service to their forwards, and again today, he was great.”

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McCarty wasn’t perfect, and seemed to fade as the match wore on. But he pushed through tired legs and once again provided a blanket for the Red Bulls’ inexperienced back four as they preserved Kenny Cooper’s seventh-minute goal.

“The main discussion that we have is to make sure that we limit the mistakes,” McCarty said of his communication with the defense. “That’s kind of been our Achilles’ heel the past couple of seasons.”

There were no major mistakes in the first half, as McCarty nullified the Dynamo from attacking down the middle. On one play in particular, he beat a Houston attacker to the ball as it rolled towards the endline, turned with it and hit a 30-yard pass to Mehdi Ballouchy.

It was the type of play the Red Bulls were lacking when they were unable to record a clean sheet at the start of the year, and one that adds to the argument that McCarty’s best position is as a defensive midfielder.

“That’s a good position for him,” said Red Bulls center back Markus Holgersson, who captained the side on Wednesday. “He reads the game and we talk to each other and keep it tight, so that’s important.”

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Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe was not all about praising McCarty’s performance, saying some of his passes were off the mark in the second half. He did, however, label McCarty’s defensive work as massive.

McCarty acknowledged that his passing was not as accurate as he would have liked, but he is happy enough with the team being able to pull out another win while raising its shutout streak to more than 270 minutes.

“For a young back line and a young goalkeeper, three 1-0 wins in a row,” said McCarty, “you can’t ask much more than that.”

Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.