CARSON, Calif. — Well after his teammates had walked off the practice field at StubHub Center, Dax McCarty sprinted back and forth on a muddy field, all alone. Just days removed from his wedding, McCarty was still working off the rust of Saturday's nuptials, and getting his fitness up for the challenge of trying to impress U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena.
"It's unbelievable to be back with the national team," McCarty told Goal. "It's all MLS guys, everyone I know, former teammates, current competitors, we're all a close-knit community. It's been a little while, so it's just a great opportunity to show myself and see if there's anyway I can help the team and bring my qualities to the team."
McCarty has a lot on his mind these days. Along with having just tied the knot, and having returned to the U.S. national team for the first time since 2014, McCarty is still trying to process the shock trade that sent him from the New York Red Bulls to the Chicago Fire in exchange for $400,000 in allocation money. McCarty didn't want to discuss the details of his departure from the Red Bulls, but did express his appreciation for the visit paid to him by Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic and GM Nelson Rodriguez, who flew into Los Angeles to speak with their new midfielder.
"I thanked them a lot for coming out and visiting with me, that was a really classy thing of those guys to do, and I thanked them in person, and it was a good conversation that we had," McCarty said. "I'm still processing everything, trying to digest the kind of whirlwind it has been. The wedding was incredible, literally everything was perfect, then to be able to come into camp, and be able to play, that's all I'm focused on, trying to do my best for the national team. I think after all the dust settles, and I have a little bit more time to reflect on my time at Red Bull I'll probably be prepared to talk about it more."
Sources tell Goal that McCarty was blindsided by the trade, not learning about it until the morning it was announced when Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch paid him a visit at U.S. camp to tell him in person. McCarty had no idea he was being shopped around the league, not after establishing himself as one of the league's best midfielders and the Red Bulls captain, so it does make sense that he would want to take some time before sharing his thoughts on the trade.
McCarty doesn't have to go far in camp to be reminded of the team he is no longer a part of. Red Bulls playmaker Sacha Kljestan is also in U.S. camp, and goalkeeper Luis Robles is McCarty's roommate in camp.
"Chicago got an incredible player, and more than anything they got a leader on the field," Robles told Goal. "He's a guy who is going to make everyone better, so I'm exciting not only for his future, but it seems like the (Fire) are making some big moves to head in the right direction."
For now, McCarty is focused on the national team, which he hadn't been a part of since 2014, and even then he didn't get on the field. Unlike Benny Feilhaber and Kljestan, McCarty never made his frustrations public, but that didn't mean he was okay with being overlooked by Klinsmann during years when he was clearly among the best midfielders in MLS.
"It was really tough, and it was something that I never really gave up hope, so I always tried to keep my frustrations to myself," McCarty said. "I respect the guys that came out and talked about it. I think there's not enough of that. I think there's not enough guys that are willing to speak their minds and show fans that players go through a lot of emotions.
"I kept to myself and tried to keep working hard, and I thought if my performances with the Red Bulls were really good I'd always have a chance," McCarty said. "I tried to keep a high level with my club team and keep my fingers crossed that a call would come, but it never did. Obviously it came in 2014 but I never got a chance to play in a game, and after that it was nothing. Every coach has their own preferences, and you have to respect that as a player. I never held a grudge against Jurgen at all and wish him well in whatever's next for him."
McCarty and Feilhaber became poster children for the handful of top MLS players who Klinsmann didn't bring into the national team during his tenure, and the former U.S. Olympic teammates kept in touch during that time, including after Feilhaber ripped Klinsmann's refusal to call in players like McCarty exactly a year ago.
"We exchanged a couple of texts and I told him he was candid and honest and I have a lot of respect for guys that come out and say that," McCarty said. "Benny and I have a good relationship. I enjoy playing with Benny whenever we get a chance to play together. We see the game the same way, and I have a high amount of respect for him as a player, so for him to not get the chances that he was getting, I also felt the same way, that he deserved more chances for what his qualities are and what he brings to Sporting Kansas City."
Now both McCarty and Feilhaber are in camp, and they're both in the middle of some healthy competition in the U.S. midfield. The next two weeks of camp before the upcoming friendlies against Serbia and Jamaica should give McCarty enough time to not only impress Arena, but also help him gather his thoughts and process a trade he didn't see coming, and is still trying to come to grips with.
"Right now my main focus is just being out here with my current teammates, trying to enjoy my soccer, trying to get back into shape because the wedding took a lot out of me," McCarty said. "Obviously there's a lot of competition for spots, but the good part about Bruce being in is it's a set of fresh eyes and I think everyone is starting on equal footing."