Nashville SC

2020 report card: Dax McCarty

Michael Dax “Dax” McCarty photo by Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Fans of Nashville SC, in my observations, tend to like Dax McCarty quite a lot.

Other editions: No minutes and goneNo minutes and backJimmy MedrandaBrayan BeckelesHandwalla Bwana • Jack MaherDavid AccamAlan WinnMatt LaGrassaEric MillerDerrick JonesJhonder CádizTaylor WashingtonAbu DanladiJalil AnibabaDominique BadjiDaniel RíosTah Brian AnungaAlex MuylHany MukhtarAníbal GodoyAlistair JohnstonRandall LealDax McCartyDan LovitzWalker ZimmermanDave RomneyJoe Willis

The expectations

It was something of a stunner when word broke that Nashville SC would be trading for McCarty, not just because of his standing within the league but also because of the relative pittance that Chicago Fire demanded for him. An MLS vet who had been the captain at nearly every previous stop (a couple years here and there during his FC Dallas and New York Red Bulls days were the lone exceptions), he’s a guy who commanded great respect around the league.

The issue? McCarty has always been a guy whose motor is a key part of what he does. Turning 33 early in the season, would his legs be able to keep up with his style of play? The fact that the Fire team he’d captained the previous year… undershot its expectations… was a less-significant worry, but certainly something worth keeping in mind.

Nonetheless, McCarty was expected to be the captain of this team. Whether that team ended up being good or bad, he was going to be the engine of the thing, getting the credit or blame for team success.

The Statistical

24 appearances • 2152 minutes

2 goals, 16 shots (0.72 xG), 5 on-target
2 assists, 26 key passes (2.43 xA)
1066/1239 passing (86.0% • 84.4% expected)
11.2% of touches on-field

+0.13 Goals added per 96 minutes versus replacement defensive midfielder

Dax McCarty 2020
Dribbling G+Fouling G+Interrupting G+Passing G+Receiving G+Shooting G+
+0.04-0.07+0.69-0.02-0.14-0.05
All data per American Soccer Analysis.

The grade

A.

The team exceeded most expectations (despite the nature of 2020 hitting Nashville particularly hard, what with having to miss out on the MLS is Back Tournament, not being able to train to build expansion-team chemistry, and a couple natural disasters exacerbating the league-wide difficulties of the pandemic), and – as promised – McCarty was crucial to the entire operation.

Whether it was an MLS Player of the Week runner-up performance with a goal, two assists, and an MLS assist in Nashville’s first win against rival Atlanta United, or the exclamation point in a resounding playoff win against Inter Miami (ultimately the team’s final goal of the season), McCarty was almost always integral to what the team did. When he missed time – not enough to ding him for grade-wise, certainly not in this two-a-week blitz of a season – the mentorship aspect shone in the performances of Tah Brian Anunga and Matt LaGrassa. His off-field leadership shone in important ways, too.

McCarty was about-average in each phase of American Soccer Analysis’s Goals Added except for one: interrupting (i.e. defensive actions). You may note that defense was the backbone of this team, and McCarty was one of the top three or four people on the team who were most important to the strength of the defense. His contributions showed up in that statistical way, but they also came through in more-subtle ones. One of the heaviest-usage players on the team, a 2G, 2A defense-first midfielder, and a guy the stats very much appreciated.

Seems pretty good to me.

The future

If the one concern about McCarty coming into last year is that he was getting up in age, another turn of the ol’ calendar (by the third week of the season, he’ll be 34 years old) doesn’t make that any less significant a factor. Of course, that he’s a conditioning machine can help hold back Father Time. You can’t win races against the clock forever, though.

So with that in mind, McCarty’s on-field performances will be important once again, and all hopes and expectations are that he can be a guy who gets nearly 85% of minutes once more. But continuing both the team leadership generally and the individual mentorship for a guy like Anunga will get a little bit more of the focus, given that having an heir apparent ready to go within the next 3-4 years seems necessary.

In a year where there aren’t (knock on wood) going to be two games a week in a three-month span, he probably won’t miss much field time due to fatigue. For a guy who is indeed getting up there in age, there may be a different set of minor issues – muscle strains and the like – that keep him out of the lineup here and there, though. Maintaining last year’s level of performance along with last year’s impressive availability would be outstanding. Doing that while turning back the clock a little bit and adding some of the 2015 Red Bulls offensive output (0.05 xG and 0.10 xA per 96 minutes played) would be awesome. All the above and Nashville takes the next step forward as a team? His legendary status would be cemented for years to come in NSC lore.

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