FRISCO, Texas — Dax McCarty has waited almost five years for this. On Saturday afternoon at Pizza Hut Park, the FC Dallas midfielder figures to make his MLS Cup Playoffs debut as the Hoops kick off the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal series with reigning champions Real Salt Lake.
McCarty played on FCD playoff teams in both 2006 and 2007 under Colin Clarke and Steve Morrow, respectively, but didn’t see action either year. After his side missed the postseason each of the last two seasons, it’s clear he’s ready to finally experience some playoff soccer.
“It’s exciting,” he said on Monday. “I’ve been here a while. We made the playoffs my first two years here, but unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to play in those games. Those looked like really exciting games, real high-intensity matches that make you step your level of play up a little bit.”
[inline_node:313311]McCarty, a first-round pick in the 2006 SuperDraft, has played in 21 games this year, including 18 starts and has one goal with one assist. He missed eight games with a strained right quadriceps muscle suffered on July 17 against RSL. He returned to the field on Sept. 16 against New York.
“I’m feeling a lot better,” he said. “It’s been a struggle, the past five or six weeks to try to weigh the differences between pushing myself to try to get 100 percent fitness and staying healthy.
“It’s been tough. Mentally it’s been kind of hard on my confidence. It’s tough to know that you know you need to go full out but in the back of your head weighing our trying not to get injured because we’ve had bad luck with injuries this year.”
He played the full 90 in FCD’s regular-season finale last Sunday, a 2-1 loss to the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center, and made it through the full 90.
“I felt good,” McCarty said of his runout. “I felt fit. I’m still lacking a little bit in the game sharpness. A couple of my passes and touches are a little bit off from where I’d like them to be. But at the same time, I am finally starting to feel like my old self again going into the playoffs, which is really important for me.”
And while FCD ended the regular season on a two-game losing streak, he’s been in the league long enough to know that once you’re in the playoffs, it’s a whole new ballgame.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t gotten the results these past two weeks but we have played two very good teams on the road,” McCarty said. “We couldn’t pull them off but our main focus was to make the playoffs.”
For the last few years, the veteran midfielder has settled into a nice niche under head coach Schellas Hyndman as FCD’s linking midfielder. If he’s healthy, he can cause problems for RSL by doing all the things that made him a candidate for team MVP in 2009.