At 23 years of age and with nearly 100 MLS appearances under his belt, Dax McCarty is certainly one of the veteran faces in this January's youth-oriented U.S. national team camp. However, he is still looking for every learning opportunity possible as he tries to lock down a spot at the deepest position on the national team depth chart.
"The midfield is probably the deepest position that the U.S. has ever had, with tons of guys playing in Europe, overseas, World Cup and getting experience in Europe," McCarty explained. "For me, it's a continual learning experience and any time I can get in front of the coaches and try to help out the team and show that I can contribute is an opportunity and one that I wouldn't turn down."
While every little bit counts in the January camp, especially with a possible roster spot in the 2011 Gold Cup on the line, McCarty still emphasized the importance of contributing at his new club, D.C. United.
"I've spoken to [D.C. United head coach Ben] Olsen a few times and he's said that he hopes I'm excited to be with D.C., because they're excited to have me. He also told me to get some rest," McCarty pointed out. "That was nice to hear from a new coach, that he didn't want to put too much pressure on me to get into camp too quickly. He's going to give me a few days off to rest after this camp to try to get my legs back and then try to assimilate me into the team when I meet up with them."
McCarty was an important cog in FC Dallas' run to the MLS Cup final, but was somewhat surprisingly left unprotected in the Expansion Draft, where he was selected by the Portland Timbers before promptly being dealt to D.C. United for defender Rodney Wallace and allocation money.
"When I found out I was traded to D.C., there was nothing but happy thoughts running through my head. It’s a fantastic city," said McCarty. "Everything I’ve heard about the front office and the coaching staff is nothing but good things."
United endured one of its poorest seasons in franchise history in 2010, finishing dead last in the MLS standings with just 22 points and a league-worst 21 goals. Nonetheless, McCarty is intensely focused on helping one of the league's most storied clubs return to its former glory.
"Obviously, you look at how they did last year and it's disappointing," McCarty explained. "In fairness to them, I think they underachieved significantly. The goal is obviously to get back to the playoffs, where a club with as much tradition as D.C. has belongs."
Despite United's quest to return to the big time, Olsen and McCarty seem to have agreed to take things slow and avoid overexertion in view of McCarty's long 2010 season and time at the January camp. Even with McCarty expected to play a key role in United's upcoming campaign, he and Olsen are doing their best to make a hectic few months as simple as possible for the youngster.
"We haven’t discussed any soccer things, tactically. I think he wanted to keep it simple for me in the offseason," McCarty said. "It was a long season, probably the longest of my career, so we haven’t discussed any of that, but I’m sure that when I get in there for preseason, he’ll have an idea of where he wants to play me."
McCarty is hoping that along with his participation in the national team camp, his new team will help him reach a new level and keep him focused as he attempts to show that his run with Dallas was just a glimpse of his potential.
"The run that we had with Dallas this past year was absolutely incredible. It was a great experience. We had a fantastic team," McCarty recalled. "I’ll keep that with me, but this is just a new challenge. I’m really looking forward to it, because any player will tell you that you don’t want to get too complacent."