Analysis

Honeymoon can wait: Dax McCarty ready to tackle new USMNT future

January looked clear, but thanks to another chance under Bruce Arena, the Red Bulls linchpin can afford to be hopeful about his national team future.

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Dax McCarty had waited years to get the call, but when he heard Bruce Arena tell him he was back in the U.S. national team picture, the New York Red Bulls midfielder couldn’t fully celebrate.

McCarty is getting married Jan. 14, a few days after camp starts. A big moment in his life still had to take a back seat to an even bigger milestone.

By the way Bruce, sorry I’m getting married four days after camp starts and I’m going to have to ask you for some time to do that.

“It’s one of those moments you just have to look at the irony of the whole situation,” McCarty said. “When Jurgen lost his job and when Bruce got hired, I think a lot of players probably had a renewed sense of hope and optimism they’d get chance for the national team, and I was one of those guys.

“When I did get a call from Bruce it was funny because I was so thrilled and happy to get called for the national team, it’s so important and I want to establish myself as an international player. But then I had to say, ‘By the way Bruce, sorry I’m getting married four days after camp starts and I’m going to have to ask you for some time to do that.’ …

“He was very understanding. He said ‘If you’re lucky you only get married once, so enjoy it.’” 

McCarty’s fiancé, Jen Zyski, was even more understanding. She initially suggested McCarty join camp on time, then fly back for the day of the wedding. Instead, McCarty will remain in Orlando for his nuptials and then head across the country to Los Angeles on Sunday.

The couple picked the date during the crowded offseason window when most MLS players get married. Several other weddings forced them to choose a mid-January weekend, and when Jurgen Klinsmann was fired and Arena hired, the potential conflict with January camp became a more realistic possibility.

McCarty will be a few days behind in fitness, and surely it won’t be easy to recover from the whirlwind wedding and cross-country trip, but it’s worth it after waiting so long for a chance to be back in the national team picture.

McCarty was last called in to national team camp in January 2014, but he did not make an appearance in any of the friendlies. McCarty’s last cap was in January 2011, a 1-1 tie with Chile.

Now, McCarty will try to prove he belongs in a national team pool that is searching for someone to add depth behind Michael Bradley and the 35-year-old Jermaine Jones. McCarty praised Bradley and Jones, but said he hopes to go and make a strong impression.

I’m not going to try to set the world on fire or try to be hero. I’m just going to go and play my game

“I’ve been with the national team before, albeit under a different regime, but I know what it’s like and what to expect,” McCarty said. “The mindset I have is I’m not going to try to set the world on fire or try to be hero. I’m just going to go and play my game, I’m confident in my ability and know what I can bring to the table.

“The competition for the defensive midfield spot is intense and there are a lot of very good players that play that position. Certainly whoever stands out, Bruce is the type of guy if you’re playing the best soccer in camp, he’ll give you a chance. For players’ confidence and mindset that’s the best thing a coach can do.”

McCarty also has plans for how to stay sharp, including a pick-up game the morning of his wedding. The competition won’t be too bad. Among the players in the game: Orlando City’s Brek Shea.

“Just one last good run out to get my touch down before camp,” McCarty said, laughing. “It’ll be good five-a-side. Brek’s my No. 1 pick.”

Robinson coveted in draft

The player likely to shake up the draft boards on Friday is Syracuse center back Miles Robinson.

The buzz at the combine is about the many teams looking to trade up into the top two spots to snag Robinson, a 6-foot-2 defender who just wrapped up his sophomore season with the Orange. Robinson especially impressed MLS teams with his performances for the U.S. under-20 national team, and he projects to be a top-end MLS starter if he continues on this path.

Robinson has made the picks held by Minnesota and Atlanta especially coveted.

Many assumed Atlanta would be keen on taking Robinson, especially because of what looks like a lack of depth on the back line. But Atlanta is in the process of signing two European center backs, according to a league source. One is a younger player from a big European club that is set to come on loan, the other is an older veteran defender.

With Zach Loyd and Michael Parkhurst already on board, it looks less likely that Atlanta would use the pick on Robinson, thus making the No. 2 pick a likely trade destination for teams looking to move up.

Minnesota is expected to use its No. 1 pick, though it, too, has been fielding offers from MLS teams trying to jump up the board. With so many needs still, it might make sense for Minnesota to move down the board and pick up assets, especially with no consensus No. 1 pick.

If they stay in that top spot, though, it’s no shoo-in that United takes Jeremy Ebobisse, as widely expected. Sources indicate Atlanta is also looking into other options, including UCLA’s Abu Danladi, Robinson and one sleeper, potentially Akron attacking midfielder Jonathan Lewis.

Final Third

Here’s some more chit-chat from the MLS combine…

Odoi-Atsem a ‘gem’ - One of my favorite players in the draft is Maryland defender Chris Odoi-Atsem. I covered Odoi-Atsem when he was a high school defender at DeMatha Catholic in the D.C. area, and his maturity and character made him stand out then. That’s carried over to the college game, where he was one of the most reliable players in the nation for Sasho Cirovski’s powerhouse program.

Odoi-Atsem is probably the most underrated, unsung big-time player … He also may be the only college player in the country without a Twitter account

“Chris Odoi-Atsem is probably the most underrated, unsung big-time player in college soccer,” Cirovski told me in late September. “He’s got a great chance to come in and start for a large amount of teams as a right back. He’s probably the best 1-v-1 defender in the nation. He also may be the only college player in the country without a Twitter account. He’s an incredible competitor, unbelievably focused in the way he plays. He’s improved in terms of his attacking abilities, but he’s a gem. I think he’s going to project very well. You’ll see him in the starting lineup of some MLS team next year.”

Odoi-Atsem was a top-20 prospect this season, but he’s shooting up draft boards. I don’t see Odoi-Atsem slipping out of the top four of the draft, and a natural landing spot may be at No. 3 with the Chicago Fire, which is in need of a starting right back. Odoi-Atsem is considered by some to be an MLS-ready starter from Day 1.

The Maryland product had a very good showing on the first day of the combine that likely solidified him as the top right back in the draft. Odoi-Atsem said he was aware of the buzz around him, but he tries to tune it out.

“I always work hard and as far as the first round for me it’s about being in the right system with the right team,” Odoi-Atsem said Sunday. “If that comes later in the first round or the second round that’s fine with me, as long as they give me the chance to make the team and make an impression.”

Stock up – A few players helped themselves on the first day of the combine, none more than Louisville midfielder Daniel Johnson. The 5-9, 140-pound midfielder was fantastic in the opening game, assisting on two goals and drawing a penalty kick, and he definitely moved up a lot of teams’ boards.

One team had been hoping Johnson might flop and stay off the radar. That didn’t happen.

Other players who impressed included Wake Forest’s Jacori Hayes, UCLA’s Danladi and Hofstra midfielder Joe Holland. In the first game, UConn defender Jakob Nerwinski showed some great pace and UCLA’s Jackson Yueill showed a good understanding of spacing and solid passing, though where he fits in MLS is still the big question.

Akron defender Danilo Radjen had a solid outing, as did Providence midfielder Julian Gressel, though he is German and his international status will likely hurt his stock.

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Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. He works as a freelance reporter on Fire home TV broadcasts. Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulTenorio.