HARRISON, N.J. – Less than an hour after scoring a beautiful game-winning goal that pulled the New York Red Bulls to within two points of Eastern Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City on Saturday, Dax McCarty confessed to reporters that he was upset with himself.
It was not because of his performance as a right midfielder. He was impressive there. Nor was it because of the New York Red Bulls’ result against the Columbus Crew. They won 3-1, after all.
Rather, McCarty was disappointed that he had blown an opportunity to pay tribute to Kirk Urso when he headed home Thierry Henry’s corner kick in the 79th minute at Red Bull Arena on Saturday night. Urso, a rookie Crew midfielder, passed away last month at the age of 22.
“Obviously the tragedy that happened with him is extremely sad and he’s a UNC Tar Heel and I’ve met him and he’s just a fantastic kid,” said McCarty. “He played three years with my brother at UNC, so for that to happen is devastating for the league.
“There was [an Urso] poster kind of in that right hand corner where Thierry served [the corner] and I told myself I’d go celebrate and dedicate that goal to him if I scored. But I totally blanked out because the emotion was too much, but the goal was for him.”
The 25-year-old McCarty cannot be blamed for letting his emotions get the best of him. After all, the diminutive midfielder scored off a rare header in the penalty area that only happened because of a talk that took place at halftime.
“The reason why I celebrated with [assistant coach] Jan Halvorsen is because I told him at halftime, ‘Let me go in the box,’” said McCarty. “He said, ‘When Teemu [Tainio] comes in for Rafa [Márquez] in about 55th, 60th minute, you can go in the box.’
“I kind of just stood there and then curled my run to the back post and luckily it came through to me. When you close your eyes, good stuff happens sometimes but I was lucky to get good contact on it and to see it hit the back of the net was fantastic.”
It was a fine way to cap McCarty’s latest strong outing in a season of them. Playing as a right midfielder instead of in his usual defensive midfield spot, McCarty showcased his attacking chops, coming close on a blast from distance and setting up Connor Lade with a great through ball, while also showing the energy and bite that has made him a top contributor for the Red Bulls in 2012.
“Since I’ve been here, Dax has been an outstanding player and before I’d come here, I understand that Dax was probably our most outstanding player,” said Tim Cahill. “He gets his rewards for his hard work and that’s the main thing.
“His workrate and his goal tonight are definitely what he deserves because he’s a great kid but most of all, he plays for the team, which is what’s really important to success for our team.”
Going forward McCarty might see more reps as a right midfielder. He has proven capable of handling the position’s duties and shifting to the outside allows head coach Hans Backe to pair Cahill with one of Márquez or Tainio.
“I enjoy [playing as a defensive midfielder] a lot but it’s kind of taken away from my attacking game,” said McCarty. “I’m no Messi, or Henry for that matter, but I like to think of myself as a useful player going forward.
“Wide right is probably not my strongest position, but at the end of the day I think I can do a job there. With [right back Connor Lade’s] engine getting up and down the line and my ability to tuck inside and try to keep possession for our team and find space in behind the midfield and combine with Thierry and the forwards, I think it’s a good mix for us.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.