Dax McCarty: being a visitor at Pizza Hut Park definitely strange

Saturday night, an old friend returned to Pizza Hut Park. Of course, we’re talking about former FC Dallas midfielder Dax McCarty, a fixture in Frisco from 2006 through 2010. But when La Flecha Roja returned to the Oven this weekend, he did so as a member of the opposing New York Red Bulls.

It was actually McCarty’s second time to face his former club as a Red Bull. The first time came back on June 22 when the sides played to a 2-2 draw at Red Bull Arena. But this time was very different. He was back in a place he knew very well and after the game, he admits it was a unique experience.

“It was very strange, being back here the first time. It’s late in the season, so it just feels like it’s been longer than it has,” he said. “It feels like a couple years rather than year. It was strange. I walked out on the field before the game, just looking around the stadium. You just walk out of the tunnel so many times, it’s hard to realize that you’re about to be the guy on the opposing side of the field. It’s definitely a strange feeling.”

And it was also not lost on him that Saturday’s match served as a tribute to his former teammate Bobby Rhine, who tragically passed away on Sept. 5.

“It’s extra weird not having Bobby Rhine around. There are so many emotions,” McCarty said. “You can’t even really describe it. It was very emotional but obviously a great result for us. He means so much to so many people here. It’s hard to single out just one great thing about him.”

New York left PHP with a 1-0 win, just their second road win of the 2011 campaign. The Red Bulls also snapped an eight-game winless streak with that victory. Ironically enough, the former FCD midfielder was also on the field for the Red Bulls’ other road win of the year, which was back on April 21 at RFK Stadium, a 4-0 win over DC United. However, McCarty was playing for the Red-and-Black back then.

He has been a Red Bull only for a few months now, coming over from DC in a trade that sent Dwayne DeRosario to the nation’s capital. But his new coach Hans Backe is already a big fan of what he brings to the table.

“A lot of energy, a lot of energy in the central midfield,” Backe said. “Dax will always be you can say in our attacking game a late runner. He can run all day long, so of course he runs from midfield for crosses, whatever it is, final passes, means a lot to us, the energy.”

And it’s clear McCarty has taken a liking to his new coach in New York.

“Yeah, he has a good sense of humor. I think tonight was a relief off everyone’s shoulders, a big weight off everyone’s shoulders,” he said. “We’re in New York, so the media attention and fans, it’s all a little bit magnified. If we don’t do too well, the fans are all over you and the media is very critical, rightfully so.”

The Red Bulls didn’t arrive in Dallas until about 9 PM local time on Friday, which didn’t give McCarty too much time to catch up with old teammates but he planned to do so after Saturday’s game.

“First person [I called] was probably Brek Shea and then Spencer Wadsworth, old teammates. Spencer’s an old friend and Brek’s obviously one of my best friends that’s still on the team because there have been a lot of changes here recently,” McCarty said. “It was nice seeing them. I saw them all a little before the game and we’ll try to grab dinner after the game to just catch up. It’s a short turnaround. We’re not here for very long. As much time as you can spend with your friends, you try to do it.”

He also wanted to give a shout out to the Dallas fans, who turned out in droves, over 17,000 for Saturday’s game.

“I thought the fans in Dallas were fantastic tonight. They came out in numbers,” McCarty said. “They obviously wanted to see a good game and I think they saw that. I think they saw a very good game.”

But he admits when he looks at the current FCD roster, one he used to be part of, he sees even more changes have been made by former coach Schellas Hyndman.

“Schellas has made a lot of changes to the team that made it to MLS Cup last year. Those guys that he’s brought in have done a very good job for him,” McCarty said. “They were hard to play against tonight. The heat was a factor because they’re used to it and we’re not.”

And since he’s not one who usually deals in hyperbole, when he said Saturday’s win was huge for him and his teammates, he wasn’t exaggerating in the least.

“This was something that I think we needed for our team. It was gut check time so to speak,” McCarty said. “We’ve been drawing way too many games because we’ve been soft. I think tonight was a big step in the right direction toward changing our mentality and being tougher to play against.”

Also, considering that win came with a first 11 devoid of Rafael Marquez, Jan Gunnar Solli and Thierry Henry, who didn’t even make the trip because of a chronic Achilles issue, beating FCD, who was without top flank players Marvin Chavez and Brek Shea, remains a considerable achievement.

“We’re a good team and we should be getting better results but I think tonight, it’s good to just get a win, especially against a very good team on the road. That could be a season saver,” McCarty said. “We’re in a very tough playoff battle with all the playoff teams in the East. You cannot afford to drop games in this league. It’s a great step in the right direction for us. We need to keep pushing. The playoffs are the most important thing because once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen. Look what my old team in Dallas did last year.”