The Chicago Fire opened its preseason on Monday, but much of the focus was on a player that wasn’t there: Dax McCarty.
The Fire traded for the midfielder from the New York Red Bulls last week and he is in camp with the U.S. national team.
Leaving New York hasn’t been easy for McCarty. He tweeted a lengthy thank you note to Red Bull fans on Sunday and still hasn’t mentioned anything about the Fire publically.
Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic visited McCarty at national team camp last week to make introductions.
“We obviously knew that this had to come as a surprise to him,” Rodriguez said on Monday. “A captain of another team, he had just gotten married. There’s never a good time to have unexpected change hit you.”
Getting McCarty on board with what the club is building is going to be key for the team’s success in 2017. Integrating McCarty and the other high-profile offseason additions, fellow midfielder Juninho and striker Nemanja Nikolic, into what Paunovic wants to implement will play a big role in how the Fire start the season. In order to do so effectively means making McCarty happy with his new team.
“For sure he’s a very, very emotional guy,” Paunovic said. “I like the way he expressed how he feels at this point. We all have to empathize with that and respect his time and the situation that he is going through.”
As poor as the timing of McCarty being traded two days after getting married was, it could be to the Fire’s benefit that McCarty is with the national team now and can have some time to process the change before arriving in preseason camp with the Fire in Florida in February.
“We are waiting for him here with open arms and waiting for him to come back, to handle all this situation, to go through that, then come here clear with desire that he played so far, with the same passion, with the same effort on and off the field and for sure with leadership that he will bring to our locker room,” Paunovic said.
For now, both Rodriguez and Paunovic are preaching patience. Rodriguez said McCarty was the top target of the Fire and said the move was six months in the making.
“We respected his need to breathe and to have time to go through his emotions, to spend time with his wife,” Rodriguez said. “I think everything will come in its due course and when his time with the national team camp ends we’ll give him a little time that he might need to recover from that camp and to attend to some personal matters and we’ll embrace him when he comes.
“For those of us that are married we know that happy wife equals happy life so we have work to do with Dax and his wife and his family and having them feel comfortable about Chicago. They were looking to put down roots in New York. Whether it’s unexpected like that or it’s someone like Nemanja Nikolic who chose us and chose to come here, we still have to work with him and his family and acclimating them. Our approach and our attitude is the same, although the circumstances are different. We have to be empathetic to the sensitivity that Dax and his wife are going through.”