D.C. United built a reputation over the years for being a stylish team, noted for its possession game and passing ability. But at the heart of the club, there were always tough, hardworking and intelligent players such as Richie Williams, Ben Olsen, Josh Gros and Bryan Namoff stirring the team on through the good and the bad.
United missed that type of player last season, and the club suffered. Things might be different this year.
United has recruited a talented and motivated midfielder in Dax McCarty. The 23-year-old comes with more than 90 league games under his belt for FC Dallas and a budding reputation for playing his heart out each game.
Last week, Olsen, United’s new coach, named McCarty as team captain. The newcomer inherits the armband from United legend Jaime Moreno, who retired last year.
“I think we’ve been missing a guy like Dax here for a little bit,” Olsen said. “He represents what I like in a player and what can be a very good captain.”
McCarty got off to a good start Saturday, leading United to a 3-1 win over the Columbus Crew in the club’s season opener at RFK Stadium.
“I couldn’t picture starting the season off any better,” McCarty said after the win.
In many ways, McCarty resembles a young Olsen. He is vocal and hardworking, and he can produce moments of brilliance. During the U.S. national team’s January training camp, McCarty performed a stunning bicycle-kick goal that English superstar Wayne Rooney would have been proud of.
McCarty likes being compared to his coach.
“I hated playing against Ben Olsen, a guy who always wore his heart on his sleeve with passion and desire,” McCarty said. “I’m the same kind of guy. I’m very emotional and definitely leave it all out on the field.”
Olsen says he wants players on his team who refuse to lose, and McCarty, a feisty and direct character, certainly fits that bill.
Wearing the coveted No. 10 shirt, McCarty took many of United’s free kicks and corner kicks in his debut game against the Crew. He was meant to take the penalty kick United won shortly after the hour mark but instead told new United striker Charlie Davies to take the spot kick. It may have been just what Davies needed. Playing his first competitive game in 17 months after suffering serious injuries in a car crash, Davies converted the kick and scored another goal later in the game.
“I knew it was my responsibility to take the penalty kicks, but I grabbed the ball and had a chat with Charlie,” McCarty said. “When I gave him the ball, I knew he would bury it, and it sealed the game.”
Davies said McCarty’s words before the penalty kick gave him confidence.
“He said, ‘We believe in you, we trust you,’ ” Davies said. “When you hear that, it was like OK, I’m going to do what I need to do to help this team succeed.”