Years from now, when his playing career has come to an end, Dax McCarty is sure to have some stories to tell about the month of January, 2017.
It was a timeframe that already was set to hold special significance for the 11-year MLS veteran, who was due to say “I do” with fiancée Jen Zyski on January 14 in Orlando.
As fate would have it, those plans then just so happened to coincide with a long-awaited call-up to U.S. Men’s National Team camp, one precipitated by the November dismissal of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and hiring of Bruce Arena. As McCarty would later announce via Twitter, the 29-year-old received the two blessings he needed to solve his scheduling quandary: Arena's to arrive late to camp, and Zyski’s to leave for Los Angeles the day after the wedding.
By Sunday night (Jan. 15), McCarty found himself both a married man and present for his first USMNT camp in two years. But there was still one more life change awaiting him on Monday afternoon, when the former New York Red Bulls captain learned he was heading to the Windy City as the newest member of the Chicago Fire.
Regarded as one of MLS' most respected and fiery leaders dating to his days at FC Dallas, the deep-lying McCarty instantly injects the Fire midfield with a measure of tenacity, distribution and big-game presence. Couple McCarty -- whose Red Bulls sides claimed Supporters’ Shield trophies in 2013 and 2015 -- with the December arrival of three-time MLS Cup-champion midfielder Juninho, and it’s safe to say the Fire head into 2017 with a winning pedigree in the middle of the pitch.
McCarty now will call home the stadium that’s been the site of some of his career’s extreme highs and lows in recent seasons. On the final day of the 2015 regular season, McCarty captained the Red Bulls to a Supporters’ Shield-clinching victory over the Fire at Toyota Park, hoisting the trophy in front of the visiting supporters at the south end of the stadium.
Nine months later, the midfielder suffered a leg fracture in the first half of a July 31 clash in Bridgeview, an injury which sidelined the Red Bulls captain for the better part of six weeks. Still, he returned to form in the fall and steadied his side defensively -- also delivering a pivotal game-winning goal in a 3-2 victory over Philadelphia -- as the Red Bulls (57 points) held on for the No. 1 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.
Coming into the new year, McCarty was prepared to tackle life as a married man and a potential role in the USMNT's World Cup qualifying campaign. Now, McCarty -- a target of GM Nelson Rodríguez since the middle of last season -- has a few more tasks on his to-do list: translate his winning track record to Veljko Paunovic's locker room while providing balance to the attacking efforts of Nemanja Nikolic, David Accam, Michael de Leeuw, Arturo Alvarez, Juninho and others.
For the fearless McCarty, success in doing so will go a long way toward ensuring that the remainder of 2017 lives up to the excitement of the first two weeks.