Editor’s note: MLS Talk blogger Kristan Heneage had the fortunate opportunity of speaking to rising star Dax McCarty last week before the season began.
Here is the transcript of the interview:
Kristan Heneage (KH): You were drafted around November, albeit briefly to Portland Timbers. What was your gut instinct regarding that deal? Were you pleased or disappointed?
Dax McCarty (DM): Yeah I was pleased. You know, I had five great years in Dallas. And while I certainly would have been happy going back to Dallas, I certainly didn’t mind a change. It would have been nice and I’d heard nothing but great things about Portland as a City and as an organization.
KH: One of the first things I noticed when watching you for Dallas was your combative style and how aggressive you seemed. Is that will-to-win a self taught discipline or do you attribute it to a certain coach/mentor during your development?
DM: I think it’s a mixture of both. I sort of attribute that to my Dad you know. He always taught me to have that ‘never say die’ kind of fighter attitude. He always taught me if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it to 100% of your effort or not bother doing it at all. He’s a big reason why I play the way that I do. And just one of those things that you know my desire to win is so great, if I’m ever out on the field I’m going to show my team-mates and my coaches that I’m going to do whatever it takes to win.
KH: I know you said you’re a fighter but I just saw a goal about 10 minutes ago that any Brazilian would be proud of. The bicycle kick for the USMNT. Can DC fans expect that on a week to week basis?
DM: [Laughs] I’d say not on a week to week basis but a year to year basis I’ll attempt one of those in a game. But that was actually an inter-squad scrimmage in our US National team camp. I’m not a big bicycle man. I don’t practice them often. It’s just one of those things. It was a perfect cross. It kind of hung up there for a while and I kind of said why not and we’ll see what happens. And I hit it perfectly. It turned out to be one of the best goals I’ve ever scored. Hopefully if I get a chance in an actual game with DC, if I have the courage enough to try it, I’ll try it and see if it will win a game.
KH: And it’s on video as well, so one for the grandkids.
DM: Oh definitely got to be excited about that!
KH: You’ve joined DC who, by their own admission, didn’t have the best season last year. Does that make it harder for you coming in as a new guy or easier because there is less expectation?
DM: No, I think it makes it harder. You’re a new guy who’s brought in to turn things around. Obviously DC United as a club has a tremendous amount of tradition and they’re not used to having seasons like they’ve had in the past season or two. So you know for me, myself, and all the other the new guys, and as well as the guys coming back who’ve been on DC for a while, I think the onus is on all of us to say ‘Ok last season wasn’t good enough, we can’t accept that we were last in the league.’ We have to kind of take it upon ourselves to turn it around. I think the playoffs are certainly within reach for this team and a realistic goal that we should have. So there is certainly pressure on everyone, not just the new guys and myself.
KH: A lot of media-people, pundits even fans are tipping you for the play offs. Is that something you think this team can achieve? Can you go further and compete with teams like LA Galaxy and NYRB?
DM: Yeah, you never know. You never know this early in the season who’s going to be competitive and who’s not. But I think every single team in MLS has the mindset that they should aim for the playoffs. I think for our team, for DC, we certainly have enough talent to be able to make the playoffs. There is no question about that. Once you make the playoffs, it’s a whole new season we’ve seen the past couple of years, especially last year with my old team Dallas, and the team that ended up winning it, Colorado. The best teams at the start of the season aren’t necessarily the teams that win MLS Cup. So I think if DC, if we have a good enough year to make the playoffs, which is certainly a realistic expectation for us, once we get to the playoffs it’s a crab-shoot from there. And we’re definitely going to go for MLS Cup.
KH: Your new coach Ben Olsen, he’s only 33. Does his young age make it easier for him to relate to the squad as players?
DM: Yeah definitely. He’s been a top professional for a number of years now and he knows what it takes to win and to compete at the highest level. He’s obviously got that fire in his belly that makes him want to win just as bad as all of us players want to. When you’re playing for a coach like that, I think it not only makes things more competitive but it makes things easier because you know exactly what he expects out of you day in day out. I think our team is good enough and deep enough that if a certain player isn’t giving him what he wants, or playing up to their standard, you know he’s going to bring in someone else who will get the job done. You can feel the mood around the team is that everyone is very excited to play for a coach like that. And he’s definitely the right man to lead us to where we ant to go which his the playoffs and the MLS Cup.
KH: A few questions about the squad. Who is the dressing room DJ? And who grabs the iPod as you get ready for practice?
DM: [Laughs] Oh let’s see, I would say Chris Pontius thinks he has good taste in music. He’s the one who always has the iPod out, playing new songs and stuff. Him or Bill Hamid. He’s a good guy to go to learn about new songs that are out there. Those two are definitely the front-runners in that.
KH: Other than yourself, who’s the hardest worker in training?
DM: Hardest worker in training? Let’s see. It’s hard to single out one guy because we all are dead set on improving our finish from last year, so everyone works hard. One guy who sticks out for me though is Perry Kitchen, the rookie. He brings not only that hard work that everyone brings but also a different kind of intensity that you just don’t see in young kids so he’s definitely up there.
KH: Have you been impressed with DC’s rookie acquisitions so far?
DM: Yeah absolutely. Everyone of them is first and foremost a good soccer player, which is what you want. And secondly they all have good character, which in order to build a team, is what you want. These acqusitions are going to be good not only because of depth, but to help us improve and hopefully they’ll be able to contribute throughout the year.
KH: Who’s the most intelligent in the squad?
DM: I would say Stephen King is a pretty intelligent guy, a pretty good head on his shoulders. A great degree from Maryland for 4 years. The thing I keep hearing about Stephen is he never lies. He’s never told a lie in his life. He’s a pretty nice and intelligent guy.
KH: Any squad jokesters or pranksters?
DM: Yeah yeah, this team is fantastic with keeping the mood light and keeping the jokes a flowing. I would say the guys that take the brunt of the jokes are Chris Pontius and Kurt Morsink. Those two are really popular amongst the team and get along well with most guys. They’re good. They’re fun. They’re light hearted. You can have a good laugh with them.
KH: You have youngster Andy Najar in the squad. With him being so young, do you have to be careful in terms of rushing him? Not to compare him, but in a similar situation to the one Freddy Adu found himself in?
DM: Yeah absolutely. With all young players you have to be careful of that but, Andy’s a tremendous talent. I can see that last year, and I can see it in training when I play with him and against him. He’s got all the talent to be a very good player and have a very good career. With Andy, it’s all about patience. We can’t put too much pressure on him to surpass what he did last year. If Andy has a year that’s just as good as last year it would be a great season for him. He’s a young kid but he’s got a very big opportunity in front of him and we just have to make sure we bring him along in the right direction and I think Ben also knows that. Ben’s the perfect guy to do that for him.
KH: Looking at you in the longer term. I mentioned Ben Olsen. He spent time with Nottingham Forest in England. You started at an Ajax affiliate. Is Europe the eventual goal for you? Have you earmarked a league and thought “I want to go there”?
DM: Absolutely. Especially these days. MLS is a fantastic league. I think you have to say it’s one of the top league’s in the world now just in terms of recognition and quality of play, but as a player you’re always wanting to test yourself against the best competition and over in Europe. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have dreams and aspirations of one day playing in Europe and trying something different. That’s certainly a goal of mine one that I can hopefully fulfill before my playing days are over.
KH: I spoke to Alejandro Bedoya recently. As you know, he’s in Sweden right now. He’s looking to establish himself in the USMNT same with yourself. Central midfield is a deep position for the US. Are you almost willing to play anywhere for the US, or do you want to be known as a central midfielder?
DM: Playing for the national team is an absolute privilege. Whenever I get to suit up and represent my country, it is something I definitely don’t take for granted. Obviously, as you said, the deepest position for us is central midfield which is where I like to play. Wherever the coaching staff needs me to play, I’ll play. If that’s goalkeeper, then I’ll play goalkeeper. But really that’s never going to happen with the incredible goalkeepers that we have. But to get my point across, I’m willing to play lots of different positions but obviously my preference is to play in the middle. Like you said we have tons of players tons of competition but that’s good it makes for lots of competition and when you have lots of great players that can only make you a better team. I definitely think the US are getting one step closer to having more players playing at the top level.
KH: Alot of the US team is very young. The likes of Michael Bradley, Bedoya, and yourself who are around 23-24. By the time Brazil 2014 hits, you should all theoretically be at your peak. Is it sometimes difficult to focus on the longer term when you’re wanting to play now and establish yourself?
DM: Yeah it’s definitely difficult to be patient, but I think that’s one thing that us younger players are learning these days. Things don’t happen overnight for you. It takes a lot of handwork a lot of dedication that goes into the process of establishing yourself on the national team. For myself, I just have to continue to be patient, hopefully play well for DC United in the upcoming season. And if the opportunities comes up for the national team, then fantastic. I’ll obviously look to take those opportunities and do well, but yeah, first and foremost, it’s about being patient and making sure I’m performing for DC United.
KH: Now the killer question is, we will fast forward a couple of months and it’s FC Dallas versus DC United in the MLS Cup final. A textbook McCarty overhead kick in the 90th minute wins it for DC, do you celebrate and why?
DM: I think I would celebrate just because of the magnitude and importance of the game. In that moment in time I wouldn’t be thinking “This is my old club.” I’d be thinking, “Holy crap, what did I just do?” in the biggest game of my career. I have a lot of respect for Dallas as an organization. Those are some of my best friends in the league still on that team. Those guys are like my brothers. I think my mind would just be blank and I don’t know if I’d kind of black out for a while there. But yeah, I have a lot of respect for those guys. But you know it would be a pretty fun story line.
KH: How are you settling in to life in DC?
DM: Yeah it’s going great. I haven’t found a place to live just yet it’s been tough to get around the city too much because we’ve been away so much. So I haven’t really immersed myself in the different things that DC has going on. It’s a little different to where I used to live in Dallas. It’s a very cool city with lots of fun things to do. Once I get settled and find a place to live, I think I’m really going to enjoy it.
KH: You speak as if you see a long term future here. Do you see a three, maybe four, year stint here with DC?
DM: Absolutely. It’s a tremendous organization, one of the best in MLS. A very rich history and a fantastic fanbase. I’ve settled here and my first few months here have gone really smooth and they’ve gone very well. So there’s certainly no reason.
KH: Finally the two new teams… Portland and Vancouver. How do you see them fairing this season?
DM: I actually see them doing well. Traditionally expansion teams haven’t been that successful. But you have to think with the support those teams are getting, not only from their front offices, but from their fans, it’s going to be very difficult to get good results when those teams play at home. I can definitely see at least one of those teams challenging for a playoff spot.