To the untrained eye, it can be hard to fully recognize what Dax McCarty brings to the New York Red Bulls.
The holding midfielder's game offers relatively little flash compared to more attacking-minded teammates like Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan. But his contributions have been an essential ingredient for the 2015 Supporters' Shield winners, who are set to duel Columbus Crew SC in the Eastern Conference Championship starting at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday (5 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN Deportes, MLS Live).
In a similar spirit, here are 10 things you may not have known about the man known simply as “Dax” at Red Bull Arena.
What’s in a name? He has one of the most recognizable names in MLS, but his birth name is much more inconspicuous. Michael McCarty perhaps wouldn’t have made such a splash, but Dax? That one will stick.
“It’s actually my middle name,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “It came from my dad. He read a book called “The Adventurers” and the main character’s name was Dax.” In the novel, “Dax” is actually an acronym for Diogenes Alejandro Xenos.
Twice a captain: He may not have spent a whole lot of time in the nation’s capital, but McCarty donned the armband in his short tenure at D.C. United before a midseason trade took him up I-95 in 2011. Now in his fifth season in New York, the veteran has taken up the captaincy with the Red Bulls.
“I always feel an edge playing [United,]” he said when the two teams met in the Conference Semifinals, where he scored a crucial goal in Leg 1. “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.”
The Ginger Ninja: With a name like Dax, you might think McCarty was all set in the nickname category. But a new moniker has cropped up in recent times, and there’s even a shirt dedicated in his honor.
Orlando roots: McCarty’s name has become somewhat synonymous with RBNY as one of the most tenured players on the Red Bulls roster. But his native Florida will always be home, and the midfielder reportedly could have made an Orlando homecoming this past offseason.
USMNT dreams: Earning five caps at the senior national level, McCarty knows what it means to represent his country. And recently, he opened up about his frustrations surrounding his inability to break into the US national team under Jurgen Klinsmann.
“I’ve done my best to try to give the politically correct answers all the time,” McCarty admitted to "Seeing Red" in August. “But the truth is that it’s hard. It’s hard to try to say the right things all the time. The bottom line is that it’s frustrating. Once you’ve gotten a few caps and represented your country, you know there’s no better feeling in the world than to put on that crest. That’s something you want to feel over and over again.”
Koji the Star: There’s no denying McCarty’s rising stock, but the RBNY captain has another star in the making in his own backyard… literally. His French bulldog, Koji, often steals the show on social media. Don’t believe me? She’s even got her own Instagram.
Small guy who comes up big: Standing at 5-foot-9, Dax hardly towers over the competition. Yet he’s still managed to score some crucial goals with that ginger top of his,most notably his dramatic game-winner against RSL in 2013.
“It’s funny, the last couple of years when I watched a lot of New York Red Bulls games, I was amazed at how many times Dax got on the end of corner kicks and scored some big goals for the team with his head” Kljestan said after assisting McCarty’s headed winner in leg one of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. “For a little guy, he’s got great timing and a great attitude going into the box that he’s going to put the ball into the goal.”
First-time All-Star: Long considered one of the top midfielders in the league, McCarty was finally rewarded with his first All-Star selection in 2015. McCarty played in the first half of a 2-1 win against EPL side Tottenham Hotspur.
“It was pretty unbelievable to be together with all these great players,” he said. “It was a lot of fun, an experience I’ll never forget.”
Desperate for MLS Cup return: At just 23 years of age, McCarty came agonizingly close to lifting MLS’s ultimate prize. Alas, a scrappy Colorado Rapids side topped his FC Dallas team in a classic affair in Toronto five years ago. Now, just two games away from returning to the final, McCarty is ready for a second chance at glory.
“You don’t get very many chances to play in finals. It’s very tough to get there, especially in MLS,” he said. “Learning from that experience in 2010, we went on a great run and it felt like all the cards were falling in place for us to win an MLS Cup, and then it just gets snatched away from you so quick and it’s over before you know it.”
Trading legends: Back in the spring of 2011, then-GM Erik Soler made a move to secure the talents of MLS legend Dwayne De Rosario. Fan rejoiced and salivated over the prospects of an attacking paced by “DeRo” and the great Thierry Henry. But less than three months later, Soler moved De Rosario to rivals D.C. for none other than Dax McCarty. Fans were, shall we say, skeptical from the onset.
“That was an interesting transition,” McCarty said with wry smile. “He went on to win the league MVP, which I was kind of laughing about.”
Four years later, it’s safe to say that this one’s panned out for New York.