Dax McCarty was born April 30, 1987, in Winter Park, Florida. He was raised in Winter Park, Florida and attended Winter Park High School. During his early years, McCarty was a member of the United States Soccer Residency program and attended the Edison Soccer Academy in Bradenton, Florida. He was also a member of the Ajax Orlando Prospects in the USL Premier Development League the summer after his freshman year in college.
McCarty played college soccer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 2004–05. Over that span, he appeared in 45 games, scoring 4 goals and assisting on 11 others. In 2005, he was named to the All-ACC first team.
Opting to forgo his last two years at North Carolina, he was drafted in the first round, 6th overall, of the 2006 MLS SuperDraft by FC Dallas. McCarty made his MLS debut in the 85th minute in a 3–0 loss against Chivas USA on July 1, 2006. Dax had his best season as a professional in 2007 making his first start against the Los Angeles Galaxy in a 2–1 victory on April 12, 2007, and scored his first career MLS goal against the Galaxy on September 23, 2007. McCarty featured in Dallas' 3–2 loss to the New England Revolution in the 2007 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final. He finished the 2007 campaign leading the team with seven assists in 31 appearances throughout all competitions, including appearances in the 2007 North American SuperLiga. In 2008, McCarty was limited to only 17 games due to injury, but made eight starts for FC Dallas while recording two assists. In May, McCarty underwent sports hernia surgery in Germany during the middle of the season in hopes of speeding up his recovery time.
McCarty with D.C. United.
McCarty played an important role in the FC Dallas 2009 season, sitting in central midfield as a deep playmaker. He recorded his best statistical season with the club scoring 3 goals and 6 assists. On November 11, head coach Schellas Hyndman made it a top priority to retain McCarty, signing him to a new deal. During the 2010 season McCarty was once again a key player for FC Dallas helping the club reach the MLS Cup Playoffs. On November 6, McCarty scored the winning goal against Real Salt Lake that clinched the series and sent Dallas to the Western Conference Finals. Dallas would go on to reach the MLS Cup 2010, where they lost 2–1 to the Colorado Rapids. He played the entire 120 minutes of the match in what would be his final game for Dallas.
On November 24, 2010, McCarty was selected by the Portland Timbers as their first pick in the 2010 MLS Expansion Draft, and then immediately traded with allocation money to D.C. United for Rodney Wallace and a fourth-round pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. Then interim coach, Ben Olsen made McCarty a priority signing due to the similarities between Dax and his own style of play. On March 16, 2011, after only 4 months with the club, McCarty was named as the club's captain by Ben Olsen. McCarty made his first official appearance with the club in a 3–1 victory against the Columbus Crew during the season opener. After failing to perform up to Olsen's expectations as a converted attacking midfielder, McCarty was traded after 13 matches to rival club, New York Red Bulls in the middle of the season.
In a shock move on June 27, 2011, McCarty was traded to the New York Red Bulls in return for Dwayne De Rosario. He became an instant starter for New York in central midfield upon his arrival at the club and was nicknamed the "Ginger Ninja" by teammates and supporters because of his light red hair. During the 2012 season McCarty had a breakout season for New York playing as a holding midfielder and was regarded as one of the top players on the team. He made 33 league appearances for the club and scored three goals and set up three others. He was regarded as the most underrated player in the league due to his silent presence in the midfield behind stars, Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill.
Before the 2013 season; sporting director Andy Roxburgh extended McCarty's contract and praised him as the "heart and soul of the team." McCarty continued his fine play for New York throughout the season as he made 30 league appearances and scored four goals in helping the club to its first major title the 2013 MLS Supporters' Shield. On August 26, 2014, McCarty made his CONCACAF Champions League debut in a 2–0 win against El Salvadorian side, C.D. FAS. Throughout the 2014 season, McCarty anchored the midfield during their run to the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals where they ultimately fell to the New England Revolution. At the end of the season, McCarty was nominated for Goal of the Year, for his chip from outside the box against Bobby Shuttleworth and the Revolution on August 2. In December 2014, the Red Bulls turned down a large trade offer (multiple draft picks and allocation money) for McCarty from expansion club, Orlando City.
McCarty was named captain of New York on March 8, 2015, by the club's new coach, Jesse Marsch. During his first season as captain, McCarty appeared in a career-high 39 matches in all competitions and recorded another career-high with eight assists. His partnerships with Sacha Kljestan and Felipe helped form one of the strongest midfield trios in the league and helped lead New York to the 2015 MLS Supporters' Shield. McCarty and the front office met with season ticket holders at a town hall meeting on September 2 in a way to build an even stronger relationship with the fanbase and address concerns. On November 1, 2015, McCarty scored the lone goal for New York in a 1–0 victory over former club and rival D.C. United in the first leg of the MLS Cup Playoff Seminfinals. The match also wrote McCarty's name in the record books as he tied the club record for most playoff starts with 12. He would go on to break that record the following week with a start against his former club, D.C. United. Strong performances throughout the 2015 season, landed McCarty his first all-star appearance as well as his first appearance on Major League Soccer's Best XI of the season.
During the 2016 preseason, McCarty signed a new multi-year deal with the club on January 8. The terms of the deal were not disclosed as per MLS' league policy. McCarty was named alongside Darlington Nagbe as ESPN's most underrated player in MLS, even after earning MLS All-Star recognition during the previous season. On May 21, McCarty scored two goals in the Red Bulls 7–0 victory against New York City FC in the Hudson River Derby. It was the first two-goal game in his career. The following week against Toronto FC, McCarty became the second player in club history to make 150 league starts. McCarty fractured his tibia on July 31 against the Chicago Fire. After being forced out of play for a month, McCarty returned to the field on September 3 against Vancouver. After being eliminated from the playoffs by the Montreal Impact; McCarty appeared in his 198th game for the club and became the club's all-time appearance leader.
On January 16, 2017, McCarty was traded to the Chicago Fire in exchange for $400,000 in allocation money. The trade took McCarty completely by surprise, with the move being announced just days after the 29-year-old was married and while he was attending his first U.S. national team camp in years. Since joining Chicago Fire in 2017, the club has had their most successful season in years and he has enjoyed acclaim as the "unsung hero" of the club with which he passed 250 starts in MLS.
On November 12, 2019, it was officially announced that McCarty had been traded to new MLS side Nashville SC ahead of their inaugural season in 2020. Chicago received $50,000 in 2020 General Allocation Money, $50,000 in 2020 Targeted Allocation Money and a second round pick in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft.