HARRISON, N.J. – As much credit as the New York Red Bulls’ patchwork defense and goalkeeper Ryan Meara deserve for recording the team’s first shutout of the season, midfielder Dax McCarty merits some of the recognition as well.
Playing as the lone defensive midfielder in the 4-1-3-2 formation the Red Bulls deployed, McCarty was a key figure in the defensive performance put forth by an injury-ravaged New York team in their 1-0 win against rivals New England Revolution at Red Bull Arena on Saturday.
McCarty constantly aided the relatively inexperienced backline in the match, snuffing out attacks with his range and providing that necessary bite in the midfield required with Teemu Tainio (injured) and Rafa Márquez (suspended) missing.
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“He played phenomenal today, absolutely outstanding in that position,” Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe told reporters on Saturday. “Normally you can say Dax’s strength is from the halfway line in the attacking game, not defending in front of two center backs. But we said after [last weekend’s 4-1 loss to D.C. United] we just need to protect the center backs better from crosses and things like that.”
The 25-year-old midfielder held up well in a first half that saw the Red Bulls take the lead after seven minutes through a delicately lobbed effort from Thierry Henry. But once the league’s leading scorer was removed with a hamstring injury in the 25th minute, McCarty’s role became that much more important.
With the Revolution enjoying more success in the possession battle, in part because of Henry’s absence, the Red Bulls went with a defend-and-counter approach that worked to perfection. McCarty was key in that second-half approach, doing a good job defensively against Revolution midfielder Benny Feilhaber, who entered the game at halftime.
McCarty also contributed to the result by taking charge organizationally and telling the young defenders when to challenge, drop back or cover against the likes of Saer Sene, Kelyn Rowe and Lee Nguyen.
“I took it upon myself to be more of a vocal leader today; I kind of lost my voice a little bit” said McCarty. “When you have a lot of young kids out there, a lot of guys that don’t have much experience, even though I’m a younger guy myself, I’ve got a good amount of experience in this league and I kind of know what it takes to get a victory.”
A victory is exactly what the Red Bulls got, and it is one the team admitted will serve as a big boost in confidence as they head to California this weekend to battle the star-studded LA Galaxy at The Home Depot Center.
With Márquez still suspended for that high-profile match and Tainio still sidelined with a knee knock, McCarty will almost surely be deployed as a defensive midfielder again.
He will go up against David Beckham and Juninho, and how the New York midfielder fares could go a long way in determining if the Red Bulls can repeat the past weekend’s success.
“That’s the name of the game: trying to keep a zero on the board,” said McCarty. “If we do that, we’re going to win games.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.