Is it time to call the Dax McCarty trade a bust for the Red Bulls?

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Six months later, McCarty is thriving in Chicago, and New York hasn't used its cap room.

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From a seven-goal stomping to chasing New York City FC around the field, much has changed in the land of the New York Red Bulls over the past year.

And though the trade is only half a season old, it’s time to call it: The Red Bulls made a mistake, at least in the short term, by trading Dax McCarty to the Chicago Fire.

McCarty has led a renaissance in Chicago, helping guide a turnaround along with newcomers Bastian Schweinsteiger and Nemanja Nikolic. The Fire sits in second place in the Supporters’ Shield race, just one point behind Toronto FC.

The Red Bulls, meanwhile, are on the wrong side of the red line and out of the playoff picture. A 2-0 loss to Hudson River rivals NYCFC this weekend only magnified the issues plaguing this team.

Without McCarty, the Red Bulls midfield looks disconnected. While youngster Tyler Adams has shined at times this season and looks to be one of the top prospects in the U.S. system, it’s clear that removing McCarty from the lineup has had a domino effect. Adams and Felipe can cover ground and make hard tackles, but there is no organization and less distribution from the defensive midfield position. Felipe simply isn’t Dax, and it’s impacted other players in midfield.

Playmaker Sacha Kljestan looks lost without someone to help get him the ball in dangerous spots. After putting up 20 assists last season to go along with six goals, Kljestan has no goals and just six assists this season.

McCarty was the glue to this team, both on the field and in the locker room, and the Red Bulls did not do a good enough job anticipating the effect of removing him from the equation. It could never be as simple as getting a talented young player on the field, because McCarty was more than just his on-field contributions.

In team building, there are always tough calls to make. The Red Bulls had two young players in Sean Davis and Adams they wanted to get on the field. In order to do so, they had to move a veteran out. It is difficult to see how they arrived at a place where trading McCarty was the answer, however, especially as there were suitors for Felipe in the trade market. McCarty is older and more expensive, yes, but he gave the Red Bulls a better chance at a title.

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Also, can you imagine Adams playing in front of Dax? The skillsets complement each other quite well. The Red Bulls didn’t need to trade Dax to get Adams on the field.

The answer comes down to money, and the counterargument is that this deal won’t be fairly judged until (and if) the Red Bulls do something significant with the cap space and allocation money pulled in from the McCarty trade. But New York had a core group that was in a window to contend for an MLS Cup title. Multiple Supporters’ Shield titles and a first-place finish in the Eastern Conference proved just that. It would be silly to ignore the now of the evaluation.

McCarty was due $500,000 in guaranteed compensation, as opposed to just $305,000 for Felipe. And there’s no way Felipe would have come close to netting the $400,000 in allocation the Fire gave up to acquire McCarty. It was, essentially, a move that created about $700,000 in cap space per year for two years. But New York has yet to add anything that looks like a $700,000 player, and with the amount of cap space New York has after going younger and cheaper, there’s no reason to believe that keeping Dax and adding another difference-maker had to be mutually exclusive ideas.

If the Red Bulls were happy to sacrifice the present in the hopes that it’d benefit the future, it’s an odd choice. Bradley Wright-Phillips is 32, Kljestan will be 32 in September. They won’t be in their prime that much longer. After all, the Fire was slammed for adding an “over-the-hill” Schweinsteiger at the age of … wait for it … 32.

The Red Bulls’ window won’t be open forever, and it is clear New York needs to pull the trigger on a move soon to get back to its prior form. If they can find a midseason acquisition to drag them out of the doldrums, maybe this column will seem short-sighted. For now, though, there is plenty of evidence that Chicago was the clear winner of the Dax McCarty trade.

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