Henry, Cahill’s redundancy at root of Red Bulls’ inconsistency


Staff Writer

There is a dirty little secret about the New York Red Bulls that has existed for quite some time – even though no one has been able to identify it. In fact, it is at the root of the Red Bulls bizarre inconsistency.

Simply put, Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill are redundant and when they are both on the field in their current roles, New York’s success is limited.

Individually, Henry and Cahill would be amongst the league’s top five second-strikers/central attacking midfielders/”number tens” along with Clint Dempsey, Diego Valeri and Graham Zusi. Together, they cannot occupy the same space. That dilemma has forced Cahill, a career striker, to drop to the midfield to pair with Dax McCarty leaving Thierry Henry the dual responsibilities of playmaker and striker.

Cahill has never been a good playmaker. With Everton, he was an excellent aerial threat as a second-striker but not a player capable of being a number ten. Mikel Arteta and Marouane Felliani were the creative players while Cahill was in Merseyside. In New York, Cahill is being asked to fulfill the same responsibilities from the center midfield spot. Against Chivas USA, he was ineffective in this role for two reasons: he was sitting too deep and he misplayed too many passes (15 in total).

The missed passes are shown here:

Cahill passes

Note how Cahill is behind the midfield line on all but three of those passes.

The other half of this problem is Henry. Henry’s individual talents are well known to anyone who has watched soccer in this millennium. However, being a number ten in MLS at the age of 36 is difficult for anybody to do; especially in a league where the demand for a number six who can disrupt buildup play and mark effectively is at a premium. More and more teams in the league are employing a defensive midfielder as a base in a midfield triangle (Sporting Kansas City, Uri Rossel) or to sit in front of the defense as part of a 4-4-2 diamond (Real Salt Lake, Kyle Beckerman).

Henry simply does not have the physical capabilities to regularly influence the New York attack if their opponent uses a defensive midfielder. He is still capable of scoring fantastic goals and creating golden chances, just less often as evidenced by his recent form (one goal in his last ten games).

The bigger issue for New York is the simple solution of limiting Henry’s minutes but even that is nearly impossible to achieve. Head Coach Mike Petke cannot afford to do this in the midst of a playoff hunt and there is no way Henry quietly lets himself get benched by Petke or anyone else for that matter.

While Fabian Espindola looks set for the bench, don’t entertain the thought that using Henry and Cahil up top will solve all of New York’s issues. Moving Cahill up top would force Eric Alexander into the central midfield with Dax McCarty (assuming New York maintains it’s current formation). Alexander is not the solution to a team’s creativity problems, let alone the key for an MLS Cup contender.

Goals, assists, leadership and a pair of tremendous international resumes can be blinding to look past. Still, the Red Bulls have quietly carried on with the same problem they endured since the acquisition of Tim Cahill; fitting the Aussie international and Henry into one cohesive lineup. Yes, the team lacks a proper width threat. Yes, their is a lack of creativity in the middle. Still, make no mistake; most of that is a function of forcefully wedging both Henry and Cahill into a functioning starting XI.

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  • Or switch Henry and Cahill. As we know Henry likes to drop back so why not let Henry feed Cahill the ball…

    • Gruff and Manly Bob

      I’ve been mulling over the same myself. We even when we played 3 forwards we put Henry up top. Put him at Mid or make in a withdrawn forward. His strength the past few games has been the setup, not the shot.

  • Tim Dean

    Or just send Alexander to the bench to think about what he’s done and slot in BWP or Sam on the right, then let Peguy take over as the #10 for the match and see how it works. Can’t be any worse than the Chivas match.

  • simon_m

    I don’t agree they are redundant. Henry is a master of control and finesse. And rarely goes to get the ball I the air anymore. Cahill is a master of timing, and an extreme aerial threat, he is a power player and ball winner.

    It would be a positive change to have him up top with Henry behind. Henry obviously has the vision to serve and would be much different from what he does already.
    Sakagya / Alexander could fill the void beside Dax. If maintaining the same formation
    Philips cutting in on the wing. Rest Espindola. Rest Steele whenever possible. These guys are gassed

  • Interesting analysis. But if this is so, why have 9 of our 11 wins come when these guys are playing together?

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