Bittersweet Return to RBA for McCarty

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By JACK BELL

imagesHARRISON, N.J. — Dax McCarty spent nearly as much time on the field at Red Bull Arena after Saturday night’s game — signing autographs, talking to fans, taking pictures — as he did during the Chicago Fire’s 2-1 loss against the Red Bulls before 22,814 fans.

It was the feisty red-headed midfielder’s first game against the team he captained for two years since what, for some, was a surprising and deflating trade to the Windy City in the off-season.

“It was definitely strange, but very familiar,” McCarty said after lingering on the field for more than an hour after the final whistle. “I saw a lot of faces, people that I miss. It was a frustrating night, but an over all emotional one.

“On the field after the game was just something that I needed to do. I’m frustrated that I couldn’t give the fans more in the game. They’re good people, loyal, and the words they said to me were really nice to hear. I would have stayed out there all night.”

The Red Bulls (5-3-1, 16 points), completed a three-game sweep during their home stand, yielding their first goal at home this season. The club cobbled together a pregame video tribute to McCarty, though its three supporters groups were barred from any display of tifos and banners because of two recent vulgar displays. That did not stop the fans from serenading the departed captain with chants of D-A-X M-c-C-A-R-T-Y after the match.

Both McCarty and the Fire’s German star Bastian Schweinsteiger said that Chicago (3-3-2, 11) deserved a better result, and it is hard to argue. The Fire had three bona-fide scoring opportunities in the first half-hour, but failed to put the ball past goalkeeper Luis Robles as he scrambled behind an often shaky defense.

“We deserved more today, the chances were there,” said Schweinsteiger, who joined the Fire recently from Manchester United. Asked about McCarty’s return to Red Bull Arena, Schweinsteiger said: “Yes, it was a big match, obviously. A big game. He has our support and has a good relationship with the team.”

After the Fire failed to take advantage of their opportunities, the Red Bulls broke on top in the 37th minute. For New York, scoring first has been crucial all season and the team is now 3-0-1 in that statistical category.

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Sacha Kljestan, left, and McCarty.

If the goal looked freakish it’s because it was. Daniel Royer‘s crossing ball intended for Sacha Kljestan was instead pushed back into Royer’s path by Juninho as Royer broke into the Chicago penalty area. Royer’s subsequent pass was volleyed home by Bradley Wright-Phillips, his fourth goal of the season.

But the Fire drew even in the 59th minute. McCarty performed a deft spin-o-rama at the top of the Red Bulls penalty area, eluding Taylor Adams and Damien Perrinelle, before sliding a pass into the path of Nemanja Nikolic. Nikolic planted a curling shot around Robles inside the far post.

“We’ve given up four goals in the run play in nine games and a lot of it is because of some of our defensive tactics and a lot of it is because of some of the relationships and understanding of what we do with the back line,” Red Bulls Coach Jesse Marsch said. “Obviously when we compress the field, the danger is there’s always a place that we play behind. But we find it’s just as dangerous if our line is too deep and teams are able to slice through us.”

Chicago pressed for the go-ahead goal, but it was the Red Bulls who found it in the 71st minute. Perrinelle’s ball into space on the left was tipped by Luis Solignac into the path of an on-rushing Kemar Lawrence. Lawrence struck a left-footed shot low to the near post that skittered past goalkeeper Jorge Bava.

The three points may have belonged to the Red Bulls, but the night belonged to McCarty, as Marsch acknowledged afterward.

“Obviously Dax coming back brings a lot of energy to the game,” he said. “And then, you know, they have done well this year and they want to establish themselves as a better team. So yeah, it had a high-energy feel to it, and that’s the best. That’s what makes this job great is when you have these kind of games that even earlier in the year, that feel like big games. So overall, I thought that that was good for us and good for the game.

“Listen, in terms of Dax’s role in to night, and role with the fans, like you know, this is what it should be. I think that’s what it should be. There should be an attachment to big players that have been in the club, and obviously the club always comments first. But there’s strong relationships that have been built over time. You know, this club has a lot of big faces and big names that have been a part of it, and the fans should enjoy those players and always treat them like they are family. So that’s important.”

Perhaps the last words should be from McCarty, who gave his all for the Red Bulls through thick and thin.

“Now it’s a relief to get it over with,” he said. “There’s been a lot of hoopla, and now we have to get over it. It’s frustrating to not win and to have to stick around and sign stuff while I’m pissed off after the game. We put them in a tough game, but that’s the nature of the business. I still have good friends here, but on the field you have to compete and we just fell a bit short tonight.”


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