BY DAVE MARTINEZ
Battling heavy heat and overwhelming humidity through 90 minutes of play from virtually a central defensive midfield position against a superior opponent was not exactly the way Tim Cahill, the New York Red Bulls organization or their fan base pictured the Australian's debut. But that is exactly what was delivered.
Facing his first test in Major League Soccer, Cahill found himself mired in one of the most deflating losses the Red Bulls have endured this season, dropping a 2-0 decision and first place to the Houston Dynamo – all in one night
“That wasn’t the plan,” Hans Backe said in his postgame interview. “When we were doing these subs, we were thinking of doing 60 minutes and then taking (Cahill) out.”
Clearly, that didn’t happen. After New York subbed out a fragile Teemu Tainio and Jan Gunnar Solli, a breathless and apparently hurt Wilman Conde asked to be subbed out of the match, wasting the team’s final substitution.
Shockingly, the big Colombian defender was deemed fit after the substitution was made. Even Backe seemed surprised by the pronouncement.
“I’m not sure if he wanted to switch,” he said. “I wonder if it’s a groin injury or something like that or perhaps he felt it. I don’t think he got injured but he wanted to go out then.”
That left a debuting Cahill to go the full 90 in 98 degree weather. A lack of fitness and the heavy conditions forced the Everton legend into a defensive midfield role where he quietly played out the rest of the match with New York taking a shelling.
“Yeah that was tough, no shadow of a doubt,” Cahill acknowledged. “They come with a game plan, they filled the midfield, they put pressure on us. You can see they put a lot of balls in the box on set plays. It just wasn’t our night tonight.
“A few boys come off injured, the team changed a few times – (I) probably wasn’t playing for 90 minutes, but in them games, you just play. I better get as much fitness out of it at the same time.
“I definitely felt it; it was tough,” he continued. “It was a different sort of heat and everything. I don’t like to make excuses. I just play football and they are good team. They played some nice stuff. They disoriented the team a little bit and we struggled and conceded two goals.”
Backe praised Cahill’s play in the face of such daunting circumstances.
“He is a hard worker with a phenomenal attitude and spirit. It was the only choice but he didn’t pick up any injuries, so that’s good.”
“I’ve played throughout the season in Qatar and places like Australia,” Cahill explained. “I think that this was still quite a good tempo, especially in this heat. It’s different.
“I trained once with this team and then play the whole 90 minutes; it’s pretty full on,” he continued. “I think that this is what is going to be expected with MLS. I keep trying to prepare myself, recover and go again because there are a few injuries and as you’ve seen tonight, I three think lads went off and there were already three subs made. You deal with that the best you can”
Considering the atmosphere surrounding his first match, an injury free debut is perhaps the only consolation the Red Bulls took out of this ravaging defeat.