McCarty pursues his passion

January 19, 2006
By Corina Knoll
(Archive)

The McCarty family of Winter Park, Fla. is a ridiculous mélange of athleticism. Dart, the 58-year-old patriarch, held the coveted positions of varsity quarterback, point guard and pitcher during his high school days -- yes, that's three different sports -- and was also a pole vaulter and high jumper. His wife, Cynthia, 53, was inducted into her high school's hall of fame for her achievements in tennis, which she continued at Mercer College. And both of the McCarty sons have shown startling talent in soccer since childhood that has taken them to international stages.

Kljestan
WireImage / Andy MeadNorth Carolina's Dax McCarty allayed any concerns about his size with a stellar performance at the MLS combine.

Dax, the eldest at 18, is now taking the family name to the pros.

The midfielder is likely to be drafted high in the MLS Superdraft on Friday, having established his caliber as a Generation adidas player at the recent combine. It's a moment the University of North Carolina player has envisioned ever since his youth soccer coach had him write down objectives for himself. That coach was his father who years later would find the tactic used against him.

"He got me," admits Dart, who had been hesitant about Dax leaving UNC to cast his lot with the big leagues. "He told me that it was my fault that we had them set goals when they were younger. I still have those goal sheets and his goal has always been to be play professionally."

But both Dad and Mom say they are excited and supportive of their son, and aren't too worried about how he'll fare on his own. Dax hasn't officially lived at home for the last three years, since he joined the residency program at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. where he played for the U-17 national team. There he finished his junior and senior year of high school in nine months and then headed for UNC on an athletic scholarship. After two strong seasons with the Tar Heels, Dax began getting phone calls last December from MLS scouts saying he had a good chance to make a team.

"As much fun as college is and as much as I'm going to be giving up, I was 100 percent positive that I wanted to [go pro]," says Dax who goes by his middle name that was chosen from Harold Robbins' The Adventurers (his first name is Michael). "I want to be making myself better every single day in a professional environment."

It's a driven statement with an undertone of eagerness, thanks to his tender age. And while the idea of being surrounded by men very much his senior is a little overwhelming, he's used to being one of the youngest as well as the smallest when it comes to playing. While in this sport, a 5-9, 145-pound frame is no shrimp, the dimensions certainly don't intimidate.

"Since I was young I've been playing against guys older than me, bigger than me and I think it helps," he says. "Makes you play the ball faster, makes you think quicker, use your mind instead of your body. I think my opponents going into it expect, 'Oh he's small, he'll be easy to push around.' I don't have a lot of size, but I use it well. I play bigger than I am."

His abilities have garnered the attention of at least one team so far. FC Dallas has expressed interest and Dax says that's a team he'd be more than willing to join. As for going from a starting college player to a newbie with a lot of bench time, Dax has already thought about the transition and thinks a realistic goal for now is to be a good reserve player.

"It's something every player has to go through," he says. "I'll just keep working hard and just wait for my opportunity and take it."

Once a talented tennis player, Dax has had a one-track mind on soccer since middle school when he began to realize that his skills on the field could best his peers. It was then that he started playing with ODP and taking the instructions of his coaches to heart. The game became a discipline to be studied, and Fox Soccer Channel was an education to new moves and strategies. He worked hard to develop his two-way style that could aggravate defenders and forwards.

"He would just hang out in the backyard and kick the ball around by himself," recalls Cynthia. "Of course it helped that his brother played, so they could play together." About that brother: with the same build, the same tawny hair and the same earnest voice, Dustin McCarty is nearly Dax's Doublemint twin. But the 17-month age gap is just enough room to make a difference.

"He's always been my idol," says Dustin who plays for Region III ODP. "Ever since I was a kid I've wanted to follow in my brother's footsteps. It might be a little hard, but I'm still trying."

The junior in high school already has lofty dreams of playing professionally, but sometimes just beating Dax is good enough. While tight-knit, neither one has ever had a problem with a little competition. That's a tradition that has been a mainstay for years, ever since they would play against each other with pillow soccer balls on their hardwood floors, breaking pictures and vases just to one up each other.

They don't get to meet on the field much anymore and that will become even more infrequent once Dax gets called up, but it's likely the entire family will maintain its strong ties.

"Family first, always," says Dax about the support system he has when it comes to his new, sometimes intimidating world of contracts, media requests and intense pressure. And so while his parents' athletic glory days are long behind them, where Dart worked for Ajax Orlando in business operations and Cynthia is now an insurance adjuster, they still have the most influence on their son's career. And it is Dart's decade-long history as a pilot with the U.S. Navy, where he was a Top Gun student and instructor, that remains a source of inspiration for Dax.

"He was one of the best pilots in the world. That was his passion. He definitely taught me if you really love something, you gotta work hard and just pursue it. Never have any regrets."

Corina Knoll is a freelance writer who covers U.S. soccer for ESPN Soccernet.com. She can be reached at corinaknoll@mac.com.