BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – For the Chicago Fire, Wednesday’s home playoff game is the culmination, or at least the latest high point, of a stunning turnaround season.
Dax McCarty, one of the new additions most responsible for that turnaround, couldn’t care less that it’s his old club, the New York Red Bulls – the one he captained and the one that unceremoniously traded him away before this season – coming to town to kick off the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs (8:30 pm ET | FS1, UniMás w/ SAP; TSN, TVA Sports).
“It’s just another game, honestly,” McCarty said on Tuesday. “I’ve already played them twice this year. The whole, like, revenge storyline and narrative, it’s just tired; it’s a lazy narrative for me because we’ve already played them twice. They’re a great team, I don’t want to win the game to try to prove some sort of point to them or to fans or to anyone, I want to win the game because I don’t want the season to end.
“I represent the Chicago Fire and I’m very happy here and I’m very happy with the season we’ve had, but we don’t have any trophies. We basically made the playoffs, which is the bare minimum requirement for our club and for me, I don’t want my season to end – no other reason than that.”
A veteran of multiple postseason runs with the Red Bulls, McCarty cautioned that “there’s pretty much no similarities” between the regular season and the playoffs.
“It’s almost like you have to treat this game coming up like a final, because it’s one game, 90 minutes and then the loser, their season is over,” he added. “So the intensity is amplified, the attention to detail has to be very, very good and at the end of the day when you step on the field you know it’s going to be a battle.
“Sometimes the soccer is not always going to be great. It’s going to be a chilly night and especially against a team like Red Bull who likes to run and press and make the game difficult for you, if you don’t match that desire and that intensity you’re in for a long night. It’s going to be a very tough game, but I think one that we’re ready for.”
Wednesday’s forecast calls for temperatures in the 40s, conditions that remind McCarty of his previous playoff days in the Northeast.
“The only thing that I think about with these cold conditions is, it’s playoff time,” McCarty said. “It’s time to roll up the sleeves and fight, because sometimes that’s what the playoffs are all about. Every team in the playoffs is a good team, especially in the Eastern Conference – there’s no bad team that made the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, every team is good in their own right. So when it comes to those teams stepping on the field, there’s not much difference between them.
“It’s about cold weather, rolling up the sleeves, battling, fighting, making sure you win the battle against the guy that’s across the field from you. And those are the details that are going to decide the game.”
Whether it’s a revenge game or not, McCarty still knows the Red Bulls as well as anyone. In two meetings this season, New York won at home and earned a draw at Toyota Park. McCarty offered plenty of praise for his former club and teammates, but only up to a point.
“It’s all about us,” he said. “We’re at home, we’re going to have our home crowd behind us and it’s going to be fun. The Fire haven’t been back to the playoffs in five, six years, so this is what it’s all about. These are when the games are most important and that’s when you want your players to step up and embrace that moment.”
Getting the Fire back to this stage is why Chicago traded for McCarty. The MLS veteran called out the stagnation and “culture of losing” when he arrived at the home of the 1998 MLS Cup champions. So how does he feel that makeover has progressed thus far?
“I’d say it’s a pretty good start,” McCarty said. “Obviously making the playoffs, going from worst team in the league to third place overall in the league, I’d say overall the attitude shift has been pretty good. Ultimately now, the main thing with attitude and desire is we can’t be satisfied. We should be proud of ourselves for where we’ve come from such a long way down, but we should never be satisfied with just making the playoffs.
“Now, the mindset shifts,” he continued. “The mindset has to be ‘How far can we take this?’ And are we a team that’s ready and prepared to win a championship? Who knows. Maybe, maybe not. I can’t sit here and say that I think we’re going to go on to raise the trophy, but I can sit here and say that we’ve matured a lot as a team throughout the year and whoever we play they’re going to get our all, they’re going to get a good fight and they better be at their best if they want to beat us.”