As New York Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke will affirm, the team is on a good run of play despite the absence of talisman Tim Cahill.
The Australian veteran made the bench against Columbus on Saturday, but was kept out of the competition to enable more heeling time for his hamstring injury.
New York have not skipped a beat in that time. The Red Bulls are 3-1-1 since Cahill’s initial injury, and are currently riding a three game unbeaten streak. Key players such as Eric Alexander and Bradley Wright-Phillips have emerged in that time to give New York their brightest attacking output since the season began.
That leads to one simple question: where will Cahill fit in when he returns to fitness?
“Well I mean that’s a good problem to have, to be honest with you,” Petke told reporters during his weekly conference call. “At the moment we are on a bit of a, somewhat of a run the last three games and for the most part, I like the way the team is playing. We’re coming together.
“But like you said, Tim is a very valuable part of this group and it’s easy to fit someone like Tim in when he’s 100 percent healthy. So whether that be in the midfield, up front, there should and will always be a place for Tim whether that’s off the bench or to start.”
How he fits in will be the key. New York are currently on an eight day hiatus from competition. Their next match will come this weekend in Dallas. By then, Cahill is expected to return to full fitness, leaving the future of some of the more outstanding role players on the team in doubt. Will Wright-Phillips make room for the Red Bulls’ talisman? Or will the midfield once again have a glut of talent to choose from, forcing either Alexander or Peguy Luyindula to sit?
Petke is not ready to say just how this will play out.
“You know, it’s a lot tactically if we play Tim in the midfield. You know, I like the defensively stability there and also the threat that he can get forward, but he’s very good in the defensive block. To play him up front [at forward] it’s because of his aerial power and his work rate. I could press the forward and like the odds of him getting his head on something up in the box.
“Like I said, it all comes into play, to be honest with you. Some games with Peguy [Luyindula], obviously with the ball at his feet he’s so good at it, we’re looking at perhaps at home or on the road in certain formations that we’re playing against, but ultimately on the road you want to start with a very defensive mindset with putting players on there that can play out of the outlets and play offensively. So, starting from a defense standpoint, so those are the roles that Tim plays in.
“At the end of the day, he’s comfortable playing so many different positions and he’s effective playing so many different positions, but the first and foremost thing is for him to be 100 percent healthy and that’s why we’ve extended it an extra week without putting him into Columbus,” Petke admits. “I want to make sure that he’s really really 100 percent ready to play.”