Tim Cahill’s Legacy at New York Red Bulls

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by ERIC GIACOMETTI
Staff Writer

After much deliberation, the Tim Cahill era in New York has come to an end.

Despite having an additional year left on the contract he signed in 2012, the Red Bulls came to mutual agreement with the 3-time World Cup veteran and decided to part ways.

As we now look back on his MLS tenure, the dichotomous nature of his two full seasons in New York has shrouded his legacy in doubt. Will fans remember him for his late game heroics and timely goals?  Or his incessant tweets praising his own accomplishments? His unbridled emotion as he jumped into Petke’s arms following in the regular season finale of 2013?

Cahill Petke Gif

Or a 2014 that saw him out of position, out of favor, and frankly out of patience?

In Cahill’s own words, a move to MLS was predicated largely on the simple fact that it would allow him to prolong his international career. And with his eyes firmly set on Brazil 2014, that’s exactly what he did. Hardly were there ever issues on this front in 2013, as his performances at the club level earned him a MLS Best XI nod. He was beloved by fans, coaches, and teammates alike, and the Red Bulls were flying high. The fastest goal in MLS history, the stoppage time header against the Galaxy, his heroics at BMO Field, the list goes on. This is a man who battle injuries and crunching tackles week in and week out, putting his body on the line for his team. When the timetable to return said four weeks, he came back in two. Yet in an amazing turn of events, Cahill went from indispensable commodity to a player enduring a bevy of vitriol from fans normally reserved for the likes of Rafa Marquez.

Where did it all go wrong?

Perhaps it can be traced back to the Red Bulls refusal to renegotiate his contract to meet Cahill’s salary demands following a stellar 2013. That coupled with the looming World Cup and a new formation that saw his role marginalized, it became clear that Cahill had all but mentally checked out. Gone was the player that we saw divert media away from a dejected and despondent Kenny Cooper after his penalty miss against DC United in the 2012 playoffs. Instead, we saw a Cahill that was often absent from the locker rooms in the post game, unwilling to speak about the situation surrounding his supposed fallout with Petke. Just a year earlier, the thought of Petke and Cahill having a falling out was unthinkable. Two players who are very much cut from the same cloth, Petke often praised Cahill’s work ethic and never-say-die attitude. But when Cahill was squeezed out of the starting lineup, the usually jovial Australian clammed up. More and more, it seemed like his exploits with his national side were of supreme importance, even accepting call-ups for friendly matches while his club was fighting tooth and nail to secure a playoff berth.

If we are to look at him through the lens of his DP status, then we must look towards Thierry Henry. In many ways he was the antithesis of the captain. Both leaders in their own right, they took on their roles in vastly different manners. On the one side, you have the sometimes cold, lead-by-example Henry. Hyper critical and stoic in nature, many of New York’s young players gravitated towards the Frenchman in training and leaned on him heavily on matchdays. As quick as he was with a flailing hand of disapproval, Henry took the time to foster the improvement of the team, particularly with the younger members of the squad.

Then there’s Cahill, a man who wanted to so badly to be the face of the franchise. Far be it for me to say that Cahill didn’t lead by example (for the most part, he did), but he was much more outspoken as to his role within the team. A man who loves the spotlight, Cahill hardly shied away from his roles as an ambassador for the league and the Red Bulls. In an era where sports icons are often more in the public eye more so off the pitch than on it, Cahill took it upon himself to craft his own image and cultivate his brand.

“You know, when I was first here, there was five thousand people in the crowd, if not less. I’ve helped bring a fan’s activation, that’s my main thing.”

Perhaps a bit of an overstatement, and it was quotes such as these that began to signify the end of Cahill’s time in New York. His propensity to self promote seemed to rub many fans the wrong way, despite the goodwill he had built over his time in New York. Prioritizing international play over the club paying his salary certainly could not have helped.

Yet, after all this, Cahill had nothing but kind parting words for his now former club.

“I honestly feel I can tick off the New York Red Bulls as a success,” he said speaking to Sports Illustrated. “Because after 18 years without a trophy I was part of [winning one], and every time I come back to New York I can get a seat in the crowd and feel something special with the supporters.”

Whether or not he truly does is up for debate.

So what is Tim Cahill’s Red Bulls legacy? That depends largely upon how much each fan is willing to overlook. At the end of the day, Cahill is already a legend at his former clubs of Milwall and Everton. There’s a reason he’s ascended to such heights. At his core, Cahill is the scrappy underdog who overachieved well beyond what his attributes may have otherwise indicated. It’s a story that seems tailor made for New Yorkers, but for one reason or another, the chariot turned back into the proverbial pumpkin in his final year in MLS.

It could be argued that he is simply a player that needs to be accepted to be at his best, thriving on his sterling reputations with his former clubs. As the 2015 season fast approaches, it has become ever apparent that the clock has struck midnight on Cahill’s American stay.

Fairy tale ending or not, he sure gave us plenty to talk about.

  • Jimmy M

    I will miss Tim’s leadership and energy. This guy always gave 100 %, remember that memorable game in Seattle with the SS on the line ? Henry wouldn’t play because of the turf,but Cahill was there as usual, and lead the team to a come from behind draw.
    The guy was misused , here was a striker who scored the most memorable goals in the WC, he was a constant threat up top for Australia , a team heavily over matched in every game. So what does Petke do ? He plays him in the midfield ???? I never could understand this !! It’s like moving Tom Brady to the wide receiver position and then complaining that he isn’t contributing. Against NE in the conference finals he nearly pulled it off with some great chances, if he did this article may have been about how Cahill just signed a new deal with Jersey, instead we see a great player moving on…..urghhhh

  • Catherine Robertson

    Tim Cahill one of the best gave 100 per cent every game.