For athletes, the keys to success may vary depending on the person. Some need a set environment, perfectly calculated variables to go right. Others are like diamonds, needing just the right amount of pressure to dazzle. For midfielder Dax McCarty, it is consistency. That may come as no surprise when one hears that McCarty is third overall in games played in MLS for regular season play. From FC Dallas to D.C. United, a vocal mainstay for the New York Red Bulls to the Chicago Fire and then four years at Nashville SC – it’s safe to say McCarty knows his way around a pitch.
The 36-year-old’s long career includes accomplishments like two captaincies, and 13 appearances for the U.S men’s national team. His experience is just one positive attribute he hopes to bring to the club. And much like McCarty himself, Atlanta United has a reputation that carries across the league.
“From the outside, you always look at Atlanta United as a big club, and a club with high expectations. Big pressure to succeed and to win,” McCarty said. “Then you get here, and you realize that is the expectation inside the locker room as well. For me, that is excellent. That is exactly what I was looking for in my free agency journey.”
The pressure and push to succeed starts with creating good habits, and that is what Atlanta United continues to work towards as the preseason begins. With the first preseason friendly match in the books, a 2-1 victory over Birmingham Legion FC, McCarty knows there is still work to be done. But he expressed his satisfaction over the younger players that closed out the match.
Despite the less-than-ideal weather in Birmingham and the tight lead, the young guns managed to pull out a win for the club.
“There was a lot of rust in that preseason game from myself. And to send on a young group with 30 minutes left, winning 2-1, and for them to be able to see out the game in a professional way. That just speaks volumes about the club and the academy, and just their attitude about how they want to be remembered by the coaching staff,” said McCarty.
Having winning habits to carry over from the preseason to regular reason was a goal expressed by players and head coach Gonzalo Pineda. McCarty and Pineda connected over both being defensive midfielders. McCarty thinks that it helps them both see the game in a similar way. The way that Atlanta United fans alike have come to love about the club – an aggressive possession-heavy game that often lends itself to explosive plays in the offensive area. High risk, high reward as McCarty calls it.
“What I really enjoy about our training sessions is that he [Pineda] wants you to take risks and he wants you to make mistakes in training because if you do that, you learn and you will be better. You will be able to do it at a higher level in the games,” said McCarty.
Preseason for this club is for training and learning lessons and bonding with other players. Atlanta United had a busy offseason, acquiring players like Josh Cohen and Stian Gregersen. The club’s next game will be in Athens, Georgia before they make the trip to Florida for about two weeks in Tampa and Miami, where they will play three more friendly matches before the beginning of the 2024 MLS season.
The racing start towards the beginning of a new season can often feel like it is going a mile a minute, but it is during times like this that teams create a rapport.
“It lends itself to bonding a lot quicker; that is what preseason is for. You want to get to know teammates you never had, or you do not know well. Build those relationships so when you step on the field, you have each other’s backs,” said McCarty. “In MLS, you can be the most talented team every time you step on the field, but if you do not bring the physical presence, the heart, the grit that teams do need to win in MLS, you might not have as good of a as season as you want to have.”
With his leadership, experience, and determination to help Atlanta United win, McCarty also brings an air of openness. There is a lightness in his approach to the game even now. It comes from a love for soccer. He has so much love for it that he even has a podcast, hosted with former MLS players Alan Gordon and Dan Gargan, to talk about the game, aptly named Major League Journeymen.
“To put yourself out there is definitely risky, but it is something I enjoy doing. I enjoy showing people a different side of me than just what you see every week on the field.”