Bastian Schweinsteiger may be the new face of the Chicago Fire, but perhaps Dax McCarty is the team's voice.
The American midfielder isn't shy with the media and doesn't mince words. So even after the Fire picked up a 1-0 win against Columbus on Saturday, McCarty still voiced frustration that the Fire didn't put the game away when they had chances.
"We need to be more clinical in the attacking third," McCarty said. "We give ourselves plenty of chances to go up two, even three, and we don't finish them. When you do that, teams tend to come back and hurt you. That's where you drop points. We need to work on being more clinical in the attacking third, but overall, especially with a new formation we played I thought it was a positive performance and a great result."
McCarty assisted Nemanja Nikolic's goal and was named man of the match. He attempted 72 passes, second only to Columbus' Wil Trapp in the match, and completed 86 percent of them.
After saying it was "absurd" that the Fire didn't beat a shorthanded Montreal team at Toyota Park last week due to what he called "defensive lapses," McCarty was pleased that the Fire held on for the win this week. Columbus pressured the Fire with 64 percent of the possession and nine shots in the second half.
"I was very disappointed with how we lost two points in the Montreal game," McCarty said. "I thought our performance warranted three points, but we didn't finish and we didn't close the game out well and we didn't defend well. I thought today we learned from our mistakes. Defensively we were a little bit more solid. Columbus had a little bit more possession in the second half, but no real, clear cut, dangerous chances. I think that's a testament to the commitment we showed defensively."
Schweinsteiger and McCarty were the Fire's two central midfielders with Juninho sitting out due to a red card suspension. The German was complimentary of McCarty's play.
"He's great to have on your back behind you," Schweinsteiger said. "He covers a lot and he also understands the game really well. He knows exactly when to pass the ball, when to turn and to keep the ball so you can really see his experience helped me out."
Columbus entered the match with a three-game winning streak and still leads the Eastern Conference with 10 points. The Fire are now second with eight points. In what is shaping up to be a crowded playoff race, the win keeps the Fire within range of the top, something that hasn't been thought about for a while around Toyota Park, even this early in the season.
Despite that, McCarty still thinks the Fire have a lot of improvement to make to become a contending MLS team.
"I think this team still has a long way to go," he said. "I think the performance in the first half was a good one. I think in the second half we dropped our level a little bit. Columbus came out and played pretty well. That's a great team we just beat, but they're missing a couple players, we're missing a couple players, but you still have to get the job done."
After making the playoffs just once since 2009 and being last in Major League Soccer for the past two years, the Fire had a deep hole to dig out of. McCarty admitted that won't happen quickly, but said it is happening.
"Turning a team that's had a bunch of losing seasons and not a great mentality the past couple years into a winner overnight, it's not easy," McCarty said. "That's never a realistic possibility, but slowly, but surely that's going to create building blocks and you do the right things on the field, slowly the mentality starts to shift. Now in the locker room you have the expectation to step on the field and win games. That's what you have to have, you have to play with confidence, you have to play with no fear. I think that's something that we're starting to get better at."