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McCarty prepared to help lead a culture change with Fire

After a six-year run with the Chicago Red Bulls, Dax McCarty will take on a vital role with the Fire in their request to again become a playoff team. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

Midfielder Dax McCarty’s assessment of the Fire, much like his personality, was direct and brutally honest.

“It looked like losing almost became accepted and a culture of losing with this club almost became the norm,” said McCarty, the former Red Bulls captain whom the Fire acquired last month. “From the front office down to the players, down to all the staff, it almost just seemed like they were indifferent about winning. That’s crazy to me. That’s insane.”

McCarty now has the chance to change the culture of a team that finished with Major League Soccer’s worst record the last two seasons.

McCarty provides leadership the Fire has lacked. He’s the latest piece added to a roster that coach Veljko Paunovic said now includes more players accustomed to winning.

McCarty is fresh off a training stint with the U.S. men’s national team that delayed his arrival to the Fire. But it allowed him to work through emotions that ranged from shock and anger to disappointment and sadness after a trade that caught him off guard.

McCarty said his reaction to being dealt two days after he was married had little to do with the destination. It was how the Red Bulls handled the move that angered McCarty.

General manager Nelson Rodriguez and Paunovic have given McCarty time to adjust to his surroundings. But they also made it clear that after making McCarty their top target for six months, they expected him to settle into a big role.

“He really — on the field and off — was our No. 1 choice because he checked just about every box we put before him,” Rodriguez said.

McCarty — along with newly acquired forward Nemanja Nikolic and midfielder Juninho — will try to put the Fire in the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Paunovic is steadfast in his commitment to holding everyone to a higher standard, and McCarty said that must be a top priority.

But McCarty said a dedication to a higher standard needs to resonate throughout the roster, not just with a select few. McCarty has passed that message along to those in charge.

“I told [Rodriguez and Paunovic] that I’m not the type of player that is going to be OK with being average and having another losing season,” McCarty said. “I guess that’s part of why they’re bringing me in, to try to change that culture a little bit. It’s not just one player. It’s not just one coach. It’s the entire organization from the top all the way to the bottom.

“It just kind of seemed that losing became OK to everyone, and that’s something that we need to change.”

Follow me on Twitter @JeffArnold_.