The new, old Dax McCarty

Inter Miami CF

May 2, 2021; Nashville, TN, USA; Nashville SC midfielder Dax McCarty (6) is defended by Inter Miami midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro (10) during the second half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

After six match weeks in MLS, Nashville SC is one of the three remaining unbeaten teams alongside Orlando and Seattle. However, with five matches played, Nashville have a lone win against New England. Its remaining four matches have all been draws, two of which — against Inter Miami and RSL — were scoreless. Given Nashville’s deep run in the Eastern Conference last season, there were higher expectations for this point of the year. And while the team has managed to evade dropping all three points against weaker opponents, there is some distaste about settling for a draw; especially in the Miami and RSL matches where Nashville’s opponents only logged two attempts on target between both games.

Source of Consistency

Nashville deserve more from the start of its season though. So far the club has the most attempts on target per 90 minutes with 6.8, and its on-target percentage is fourth in the league. But when it comes down to the squad’s conversion rate, the squad falls to 18th behind the likes of FC Cincinnati — a team with only four goals this season.

With goals lacking, the question over the squad’s source of consistency becomes ever so clearer: Dax McCarty. At 34 years old, McCarty looks a little… different when he is on the ball. All those seasons at the Red Bulls gave people the idea that McCarty could do it all from the middle if needed. If the team was chasing and they needed a No. 8 at the edge of the box, McCarty was there. If the team needed a regista to sit deep and hit diagonal passes to wingers, McCarty was there. And if the team needed a player to play vertically and hit through balls into diagonal runs, McCarty was there.

McCarty Today

So when McCarty came to Nashville ahead of its inaugural 2020 season, these were the things people expected. Even though his original roles wavered at Chicago before Nashville, people still had this classic image of what McCarty was. Fast forward to McCarty’s second season at the club, and his role couldn’t be more different, but most people — and even McCarty himself — could not have expected his importance in this squad.

Last season, McCarty made 21 appearances, and so far this year he has appeared and started in all five of Nashville’s matches. His role is much more passive than the one’s previously described. McCarty does not threaten defenders in the final third much anymore, and he much prefers to keep the ball on the ground. He helps his team out by positioning himself as an outlet for any of his teammates in trouble. He is the “get-out-of-jail-free card” for Nashville.

So far, McCarty is 22nd in MLS for most touches by a midfielder, and 23rd in loose balls recovered by a midfielder. He has four blocked shots, the third-most for a midfielder, and only four behind the league-leader Miles Robinson. Of McCarty’s 276 passes, only 14 have been blocked or intercepted. And he retains the ball in prolonged sequences as well. He is one of only 27 players with 100 percent dribbling success in MLS.

As long as McCarty stays fit, and as long as Nashville’s attack starts to heat up the way everyone expects, the team will become a legitimate force this season.

Follow Alex Miller of ‘MLS Multiplex’ on Twitter @alex_g_miIIer