What did it take for New York Red Bulls’ midfielder Tim Cahill to score?
A complete decimation of the team’s starting midfield.
Perhaps for the first time since joining the team, Cahill found his rightful place in the starting eleven thanks to a thinned out midfield. Against Toronto, he displayed the leadership, control and, most of all, goal scoring prowess that made him a must-have commodity during last year’s summer transfer window.
“The two goals today were just the cherry on the cake to be honest with you because he does exactly what we ask him to do,” head coach Mike Petke said after the match. “He leads in the midfield, he plays very stingy defense and he’s a work horse. He’s an example for our young midfielders to be honest with you.”
Unfortunately, it took the loss of Dax McCarty and Juninho to find that role.
It’s no secret that the club was put together in a heated tug of war between Red Bulls Director of Global Football Gerard Houllier and the combined interests of Sporting Director Andy Roxburgh and General Manager Jerome de Bontin during the offseason. While the trio did well to be rid of Rafa Marquez, they brought in Juninho to an already crowded starting midfield that included McCarty and, of course, Tim Cahill.
With three starting level players and a weakened flank, Cahill has been forced to play the role of utility man. Through the team’s 90 minutes against Sporting KC two weeks ago, he started on the left midfield, fell back to left back, transitioned to centerback, moved up to defensive midfield before playing the attacking role and eventually, striker. It has been the story of his short career in New York; unable to fit in one place, he becomes the ultimate stop-gap.
“Yeah I pride myself on defending just as much as much as attacking,” Cahill said. “Especially against (Toronto FC) because they’re a dead ball team where they just dump the ball in the box and they really seem to put teams under a lot of pressure. In the videos that I watched, in the 3rd minute they are lumping it in the box so that tells a lot about the style they play what Ryan (Nelson) wants to do. You know, I’m not scared to win a challenge when it comes to defending. I suppose if it’s passed from me and moves forward, it’s going to have a good impact on the team.”
With his starting partners out of the equation, Cahill becomes the focal point of the team’s midsection. Wing roles were well defined between Jonny Steele and Lloyd Sam. Eric Alexander, a classic defensive midfielder, stayed his role in front of the backs allowing Cahill to roam, create and participate in the attacking third. It wasn’t pretty but it was effective.
And the result was undeniable.
“Tim Cahill is a warrior,” Sam said. “I’m so happy for him. He’s not had many goals lately and that’s his thing. He carried the team today and won us the game.”
The defined roles also allowed Cahill to do something else Red Bull fans have long wanted to see; combination play between him and Henry. The freedom in the middle of the field allowed him to sneak into the number nine role on both goals, giving Henry a central target from his traditional left sided strikers role.
“Thierry’s step over, and that cross, he didn’t even look at me, but he knows, and that’s football instincts,” he said. “I don’t think if we’re one nil up it would have went, but Titi didn’t even look at me. I screamed and he heard and I suppose being the footballer he is he knew exactly where I was and he put it in the air and from that I suppose there was only going to be one winner, because we need to score and end it. I hit the bottom right hand corner and we’re winning 2-1.
“I have to pick and choose,” he explained. “If they are not going to follow me and follow the others, there is only going to be one winner on that cross and that was something I was looking for all season – a just reward for knocking on the door. I think in other games I’ve contributed a lot more and the goals haven’t gone in. For me, it’s not about goals, it’s about the consistency of this team, the discipline, making sure we fill in the goals for not conceding.”
With Juninho set to return from suspension and McCarty due shortly there after, the Red Bulls (and Cahill particularly) will face the enviable yet difficult challenge of piecing these talents into one cohesive midfield unit. That matters little to the Australian international who sees his performance against Toronto translating to bigger and better fortunes regardless of the flux in the middle.
“Once we become more solid, I am going to break more and find my opportunities,” he said. “For me it’s just nice because the manager deserves this win, the staff, the fans because we are trying to build something here. It’s going to take time. It’s still the teething period but we are showing we can play some good football.”