We’re only a few hours shy of kickoff in the Eastern Conference Knockout Round clash between the Chicago Fire and the New York Red Bulls. I don’t need to tell you how big of a deal this is— first playoff appearance for the Fire in five years, a huge turnaround from back-to-back Wooden Spoon seasons, blah blah blah. You get it.
But if you’re a player trying to prep for this game, it might make more sense to downplay the significance of the game.
That seems to be the approach taken by Fire midfielder and captain Dax McCarty. Dax, who spent six seasons with the Red Bulls before a shock move to Chicago earlier this year, is naturally at the center of the hype machine heading into the game. The “new guy faces his former team in do-or-die playoff game” narrative pretty much writes itself.
For his part, Dax is trying to be chill about the whole thing.
“It’s just another game, honestly. I’ve already played them twice this year. The whole, like, revenge storyline and narrative, it’s just tired; it’s a lazy narrative for me because we’ve already played them twice. They’re a great team, I don’t want to win the game to try to prove some sort of point to them or to fans or to anyone, I want to win the game because I don’t want the season to end.”
As for lingering complicated feelings about team loyalty?
“I represent the Chicago Fire and I’m very happy here and I’m very happy with the season we’ve had, but we don’t have any trophies. We basically made the playoffs, which is the bare minimum requirement for our club and for me, I don’t want my season to end – no other reason than that.”
Dax also warned that the playoffs are an entirely different beast compared to the regular season, and that the Fire need to be prepared for that.
“It’s almost like you have to treat this game coming up like a final, because it’s one game, 90 minutes and then the loser, their season is over,” he added. “So the intensity is amplified, the attention to detail has to be very, very good and at the end of the day when you step on the field you know it’s going to be a battle. Sometimes the soccer is not always going to be great. It’s going to be a chilly night and especially against a team like Red Bull who likes to run and press and make the game difficult for you, if you don’t match that desire and that intensity you’re in for a long night. It’s going to be a very tough game, but I think one that we’re ready for.”
As for the brisk cold weather forecast for tonight? Dax gives a hearty “meh!”
“The only thing that I think about with these cold conditions is, it’s playoff time. It’s time to roll up the sleeves and fight, because sometimes that’s what the playoffs are all about. Every team in the playoffs is a good team, especially in the Eastern Conference – there’s no bad team that made the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, every team is good in their own right. So when it comes to those teams stepping on the field, there’s not much difference between them. It’s about cold weather, rolling up the sleeves, battling, fighting, making sure you win the battle against the guy that’s across the field from you. And those are the details that are going to decide the game.”
The whole interview is worth a look, if you’re still not quite hyped up enough for tonight.