In just their second MLS season, Nashville SC have already established themselves as a legitimate Eastern Conference contender.

The numbers don't lie: Heading into their final five games of the 2021 season, Nashville hold the No. 2 spot on the East table with 48 points from 29 matches, boasting an impressive +20 goal differential. They're slated to make their second straight Audi MLS Cup Playoffs appearance, all after reaching the 2020 version as an expansion side.

So, what's the secret behind that level of consistency? Veteran midfielder Dax McCarty, when joining The Call Up, pinpointed several key areas on the roster-building front.

"I think there's a number of factors. I think the first factor is the balance that we have on our roster," McCarty told co-hosts Susannah Collins and Jillian Sakovits. "It seems like a very arbitrary thing to say but our roster is so balanced from top to bottom that it's really difficult for us to have those crazy highs and lows that maybe you would expect of a second-year team.

"We have a really good mixture of veteran guys, we have good leadership. Even take myself out of it, I have my bad days every now and then, but we have guys like Walker Zimmerman, Anibal Godoy, Joe Willis and Dan Lovitz – guys that have played in MLS for a long time but have also played at a high level in other leagues. So when you have that, I think it gives you a platform for success."

As strong as Nashville have been on the field, they arguably haven't fully broken into the national media conversation. That could just be a matter of time, but McCarty said at this point in his career, it's not something he pays attention to either way.

"I think when you’re younger you care about that stuff and you want people to be talking about you and you want to be reading great things about yourself, and you want to be reading the player ratings and how great you were and all that stuff," the 34-year-old said. "Especially in this day and age with Twitter and the instant analysis that fans and media alike can doll out, it’s natural. But with me, I’ve tried to stay away from that type of analysis because who knows if it’s real, who knows if it’s not. The only opinions that really matter are the opinions in the locker room and the opinion of the coaching staff, the technical staff and the guys in your locker room."

On top of that, McCarty cited areas of improvement he wants to see for Nashville to truly reach the MLS elite. Head coach Gary Smith's group has drawn 15 games this season and amassed a 3-3-8 road record – all in contrast to strong Nissan Stadium form.

"The truth of the matter is the only things I see are a team that’s very consistent," McCarty began, "a team that’s had a good year but a team that maybe has drawn too many games, a team that’s dropped too many points at home, a team that has struggled to be consistent on the road."