In many ways, Dax McCarty’s five-year run in MLS has paralleled the ups and downs of FC Dallas.
A first-round pick in the 2006 SuperDraft, McCarty played in just two games as a rookie under former coach Colin Clarke. He appeared in 25 games in 2007 and led the team with seven assists in his second season, but never saw much postseason light, logging just 14 minutes as FCD fell to the Houston Dynamo in the Western Conference semifinals.
He eventually reported late to preseason in 2009 and reportedly butted heads with FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman as far back as 2008, and then battled both a hip injury and a nagging quadriceps issue that limited him to 21 appearances this year.
But it was McCarty who was certainly one of the heroes for FC Dallas on Saturday, scoring the series-clinching goal in the 17th minute that helped push FCD past Real Salt Lake and into next week’s Western Conference final.
“I’ve definitely come a long way, grown up and matured a lot,” McCarty told MLSsoccer.com. “I’ve learned how to be a little bit more of a professional. I think that goes into how you prepare and how you play.”
McCarty’s goal was the first of his postseason career.
“It means a whole lot," he said. "I think it means most to me because it’s the goal that puts us into the next round. I’ve been here five years and we’ve never advanced past the first round. We’ve had some pretty heartbreaking losses in that time.”
Said Hyndman after the match, “Dax isn’t a player who gets a lot of goals for us. The thing is, when players are held accountable, some accept that accountability, some players don’t like that. Dax has really come around and become one of our leaders on the field.”
During his time with FCD, McCarty has seen countless teammates come and go. In fact, he and backup goalkeeper Dario Sala are the lone holdovers from that ’07 playoff team, along with assistant coach Marco Ferruzzi.
“It’s definitely been a while for me,” McCarty said. “I thought 2007 would have been my year, that was kind of when I started to play a little bit more. Then, when I didn’t play in the playoffs, that was pretty devastating personally, and even more devastating that we lost. The wait has been long to be able to taste the playoffs.”
Teammate Daniel Hernandez said he noticed McCarty’s troubles this season and how lengthy injuries limited him from contributing during a remarkable regular-season turnaround from 2009.
“Part of it was injuries, part was confidence, just getting back into the flow of things,” Hernandez said. “But I think these last two games were probably his best of the season. I’m glad, because for us to be successful, we need him to come up big for us.”
For McCarty, who’s endured a number of hardships with FC Dallas in the past five seasons, the team’s unity and cohesion are a welcome sign that both he and the franchise have come a long way.
“The locker room after the game was just absolutely ecstatic," he said. "Everyone was high-fiving, dancing and having a good time. We all love each other and are like a family. Daniel Hernandez said it before the game, he really feels like this is the closest group of guys he’s ever been around. He’s obviously been in a lot of places and played this game a long time. To hear him say that obviously feels good.”