There is little love lost between the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United, and few people know that better than New York Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty.
The one-time captain of the Red-and-Black didn’t spend too much time in the nation's capital, appearing just 13 times before being shipped off to New York in 2011. Yet the angst that the so often exists between these two sides, amplified during these Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs, is apparent to the current Red Bulls captain.
“I always feel an edge playing this team,” McCarty said after New York’s 1-0 Sunday victory in the first leg of the teams' Eastern Conference Semifinal. “These are my former teammates, this is my former locker room, it’s our biggest rival and I’ve been on both sides of the rivalry. I know how important it is to both sets of players.”
McCarty notched the game’s lone goal in the 72nd minute, providing New York with some breathing room as they head back to Red Bull Arena. His contributions were evident all over the pitch, even more so after defender Damien Perrinelle was forced off due to injury early in the second half.
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“Dax really controlled things in the middle,” said New York head coach Jesse Marsch. “It wasn’t always a pretty game, so the ability for him and Felipe and Sacha [Kljestan] to pick up a lot of second balls I think helped up gain control of the game.”
Anchoring the midfield, McCarty’s efforts helped New York keep United off the scoreboard. In fact, the home side failed to record a single shot on target, a playoff first. For all his defensive prowess, though, it was an attacking contribution that made the biggest impact as McCarty freed himself at the far post to head home the game-winning goal.
“He’s a big part of what we’re doing here and he’s been a huge part all season,” Kljestan said. “I love playing with the guy. I appreciate everything he does for the team, and when he comes up in a big moment like that you just have to be happy. He’s not the type of guy who’s going to score 10 goals a season, but when he’s put some goals in this season they’ve been big ones.”
Even after scoring the goal, McCarty stressed that nothing is yet decided at the halfway point of the matchup. After all, he’s seen first-hand just how quickly things can change, and the bitter taste a rivalry defeat can leave.
"I still look back to that playoff series when they knocked us out at home in that crazy snow game,” said McCarty, of the teams' infamous 2012 playoff series. “That was the worst feeling in the world with your rivals knocking you out. Last year, we turned it around on them and that was a better feeling. I just think back to that moment and I don’t want that feeling again.”