New midfield pair Dax McCarty and Juninho paying dividends for Chicago Fire

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Much was made this winter of the Chicago Fire’s high-profile acquisitions of Dax McCarty and Juninho, and the league veterans did not disappoint in their first regular season outing together in Chicago’s 2-0 win against Real Salt Lake on Saturday.

The duo were denied the opportunity to share the field in the Fire’s opener at Columbus Crew SC a week earlier when the Brazilian was ruled out of the game because of an incomplete suspension carrying over from his time with Mexican side Club Tijuana.

McCarty and Juninho wasted little time on Saturday in showing just what they’ll bring to the Fire this year, however, displaying the quality, composure and discipline they were known for during their stints at the Red Bulls and Galaxy, respectively.

"I think their leadership, their commitment and consistency in hard work and winning all these drills and battles we had in the midfield were rewarding,” head coach Veljko Paunovic said of their impact. “They are contagious, Juninho and Dax, for the rest of the team. And that mentality, it’s getting all over the team and it's very important for us.

“Everyone else understood when we were up 2-0 how we had to play and what we had to do. And I love that determination that we had when we were up 2-0, we aren't going to concede goals and concede chances."

McCarty was deservedly heralded as man of the match after a dynamic display in which he was as resolute in defense as he was proactive in attack. Meanwhile, Juninho had a quietly effective game alongside him, knitting together some key passes and offering added protection as the duo laid the foundations early on for the 2-0 win.

"I felt very good, to be in my first game of the season, and about the partnership between us, getting to know a lot about each other,” Juninho said on Saturday. “The games will tell a lot throughout the season. But I think it was good, I think we did very good in the middle of the field. Playing against Kyle Beckerman was a big challenge for us and a big test. We have to keep it up, and I'll try to push those guys forward." 

Despite his man of the match performance, McCarty was typically honest in his assessment of a game the home side trailed 58 percent to 42 percent in possession having taken a 2-0 lead by the 15th minute. 

“Obviously it’s the home opener, fans have a lot of energy, you want to come out and give them what they deserve, which is three points against a tough team,” McCarty told CSN Chicago in his post-match interview. “Great start to the game, obviously we started the game the way we wanted to, scored two good goals, but after that the quality really dropped off. [We were] holding on in the second half. The second half was nowhere near good enough. [We’re] trying to take the positives from the first half and obviously we have to work on some things still."