Lost among the numerous first caps and first goals attained in the U.S. Men’s National Team’s 2-1 victory against Ghana on Saturday was the Budweiser Man of the Match performance from Dax McCarty.
Though making just his seventh MNT appearance the Chicago Fire midfielder was the steady, veteran presence in the heart of the U.S. midfield McCarty played the tried-and true-defensive role he’s become known for during his 12 seasons in M.L.S., but also showed well in moving the ball through midfield, leading all U.S. starters in Passing Accuracy (95.4%) and Total Passes (65).
McCarty found a good understanding with central partner Kellyn Acosta as the duo balanced the U.S. midfield throughout the game.
“I thought Dax and Kellyn were very good and the matchup they had against Ebenezer Ofori and Isaac Sackey, who are excellent players,” U.S. MNT head coach Bruce Arena said in his post-game press conference. “It was a real battle in there and they held up well. I think Kellyn is a young player that showed a lot of composure and Dax is a more experienced guy and I think he did a good job giving us a balance in the midfield.”
For his part, McCarty said he was honored with the recognition, but complimented the players around him for pushing the U.S. to another victory and extending the team’s unbeaten streak to eight matches since Arena’s return last November.
“I thought we had a lot of really good performances tonight,” McCarty said. “We trained for a week and we tried to prepare as best we could. It’s a lot of new guys on the field together – you always want to come away with a win – you want to get confidence heading into the Gold Cup and I thought for the most part we were pretty comfortable. I thought a lot a good of performances from our guys, I was just happy to be able to contribute to us getting a win.”
While always recognized as a top central midfielder in Major League Soccer, McCarty’s is experiencing a renaissance for both club and country this year. Traded to Chicago the day after arriving at this year’s U.S. MNT January Camp (and two days after his wedding), McCarty has been one of the biggest reasons for the club’s turnaround this season, a resurgence that has seen the Fire go from the worst team in the league the last two seasons to top of the table as of Saturday night.
Internationally, he earned his first cap in a 2009 friendly at Slovakia, but only intermittent call-ups and appearances followed, until Arena took over the job in November. The Winter Park, Fla., product has been a constant on every U.S. MNT roster since, but has been rooted behind Michael Bradley for more time on the field. With the U.S. captain not on the current roster, the 30-year-old midfielder recognizes the golden chance for minutes he’ll have during the next month as the U.S. seeks its sixth confederation championship at the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
“It’s going to be a big opportunity for me. Obviously I’m a little bit more of a veteran guy on the roster, but I’m just trying to do my part to be a good leader and try to help the young guys. I think we have a lot of really young, talented players in this camp who are all going to be big parts of the National Team going forward.”
As someone that has largely been on the outside of the National Team looking in, McCarty also admitted to savoring the current run he’s been given by Arena.
“For myself, who knows how much longer I’m going to be able to enjoy these games and camps? I want to try and enjoy every moment I get to step on the field and tonight was an awesome moment, a great crowd here in Hartford. To be able to contribute in this game and hopefully some games in the Gold Cup, it’s going to be a great feeling. I never taking representing my country for granted and tonight was awesome.”