Blunt regarding himself, his career, his shocking trade to Chicago, and just about everything else, McCarty fired a few torpedoes into the Good Ship Red Bull during a conference call with reporters Tuesday and also raised the flag for his new club team, the Fire, as well as a return to the national team after a six-year absence.
“I didn’t think they handled the situation in a very classy way,” said McCarty of the team for which he played 186 games (including playoffs) the past six seasons and captained in 2015 and 2016. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it and a lot of time to try to be measured in how I talk about the Red Bulls, because it’s an organization that I love, but the main part of my emotional side is just how they handled the trade and the way certain people handled the trade.”
The “certain people” include head coach Jesse Marsch, who named McCarty captain upon being hired to replace team icon Mike Petke two years ago. It was Marsch who informed McCarty of the trade Jan. 16, two days after McCarty’s wedding, and the abruptness of the news didn’t anger McCarty as much as the team’s callous approach to trading away perhaps its most admired player.
“I gave everything for that club, my heart and soul, I did everything from being in the community to doing every appearance that they asked of me to trying bond and connect with the fans, playing injured,” said McCarty. “You name it; all of the above.
“There’s no player that’s bigger than any club, and that’s something I understand full well. But I do think that if you’re a club that preaches family and you’re a club that preaches doing things the right way, and trying to treat players the right way, then I don’t think you go and trade a guy who you say that you relied on a lot and is your captain behind his back without at least telling him that, ‘Hey, these are some possibilities, unfortunately we have to move you. Do you have any family matter, you just got married, you have a wife, this is a big moment in your career.”
“I thought I at least earned that.”
Getting back on the field for the national team was a big moment as well, but he needed about a week of camp to process what his beloved club had done and how it had transpired.
McCarty, 29, acknowledges that the business aspect of trading away his $500,000 salary to provide cap space and more minutes for younger players such as Sean Davis, who in an ironic twist upgraded his status during the 2016 season by a strong performance while replacing an injured McCarty in a game against Chicago, is practical.
In his career, McCarty has been exposed in the Expansion Draft days after helping FC Dallas reach its only MLS Cup final in 2010, and jettisoned by D.C. United just a few months later after it had swung a trade to get him from Portland. He’s wrangled over contracts and got into teammates, opponents, and referees and is quick to point out, “I’m not naïve.”
But this really stung. ”I told [Marsch] to his face that I didn't think the way he handled it was appropriate, and it was certainly was a big surprise,” McCarty said. “I certainly thought the club could have gone about it in a little bit better way. But this is life in professional sport.”
He reported Monday to Fire training camp in Florida for the next phase of his life buoyed by a solid 62-minute display against Jamaica in Chattanooga. Piled on top of his wedding and the shock trade news upon his arrival at U.S. camp, focusing on training sessions conducted by head coach Bruce Arena strained his psyche along with his body. His fortitude prevailed. Eventually.
“I thought it was a good camp for me personally,” said McCarty, who sat out the first game against Serbia and helped stymie Jamaica in a holding midfield role. “Obviously, it took me a while to get going, I came into camp four or five days later than everyone else because of my wedding, but Bruce was very understanding of that fact. He gave me time to get my legs under me. I thought I got better as camp wore on and I got more comfortable.
“I got a start against Jamaica, which was an awesome moment for me. I haven’t played for the national team in quite a while as you guys know and that was a big source of pride, being able to put on the jersey again and walk out in front of a great crowd in Chattanooga and get on the field and compete and represent your country.”
As far as representing the Fire, he’s looking forward that as well, though getting acclimated to a new coach, new teammates and new system will take time. Another winter of roster changes has brought in ex-Galaxy midfielder Juninho, among others, and they will refine their midfield roles during preseason.
“When I saw that the Fire had made a move for Juninho -- this was obviously when I was still a Red Bulls player -- I thought that was a fantastic addition for them,” McCarty said of the Brazilian who played six seasons (2010-15) for the Galaxy and is coming back to MLS after struggling at Club Tijuana. “This is a guy I’ve played against a lot in my career. Juninho’s a fantastic center midfielder and I think that he never got enough credit for those LA teams that were so good a couple years ago. He was a huge, huge part of those teams. I think he’s a very underrated player.”
Personnel and tactics aside, McCarty is most anxious to ignite competitive fires in the Fire locker room and training sessions. In his 11 MLS seasons, he’s played 275 games, scored 19 goals, registered 46 assists, committed 241 fouls, and received 29 cautions, but none of those numbers define the intangibles he brings to a squad, especially one mired in the doldrums.
In the current decade (since 2010), the Fire has just one playoff appearance, a 2-1 loss to Houston in the 2012 Knockout Round. It has finished dead last the past three seasons in the Eastern Conference while winning only 21 of 102 games.
“From my uneducated perspective on what’s going on with the team, it just seemed like losing became okay to everyone and that’s something that we need to change,” he said. “You can’t do anything as one player to change a culture. It has to be a whole group pulling together.
“I’ll try to make sure the culture in the locker room is one of accountability but also one of leadership. You need to have a good atmosphere. I don’t know for sure what the atmosphere in the locker room’s been like the last couple of years but I certainly know you need to have a good atmosphere in the locker room if you’re going to win games
“I’m going to be myself, I’m going to be the player I’ve always been. I’m going to try to be a good leader, I’m going to try my best to help the team on the field, but also help the team off the field.”