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The SBI View: Time for Cahill to step up for the Red Bulls

Tim Cahill Serious Face (USA TODAY SPorts)

Photo by USA TODAY Sports


From his sensational World Cup strike to his impressive club performances in 2013, Tim Cahill has shown repeatedly that he can step up and deliver in big moments.

Unfortunately for the New York Red Bulls, they haven’t seen much of that this year, and now need Cahill to deliver more than ever.

The Red Bulls head into Saturday’s Eastern Conference Finals second leg needing to overturn a 2-1 deficit against New England, and must do so without suspended MLS Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips. Cahill is the safe bet to replace Wright-Phillips in the lineup, and will be tasked with trying to fill in for a player who has scored 31 combined goals in the regular season and playoffs.

Frankly, Cahill is long overdue to step up for his club. The Australian star has followed up an MVP-caliber 2013 with a lackluster 2014 for the Red Bulls. He has provided just two goals and two assists in this season, performing inconsistently to the point of losing his starting job late in the regular season and through the playoffs.

Not exactly the kind of season the Red Bulls would have expected from one of the league’s highest-paid players.

So how will Cahill turn things around if he is given the nod at Gillette Stadium? He will need to push aside any ill will he has had over his recent lack of playing time – something he has not been afraid to casually mention during his latest meetings with the media – and really buy into the game plan Petke is looking to deploy in Foxborough.

Whether that is having Cahill play as a second forward behind Henry or at the top of the attack as a false nine, the Red Bulls need Cahill to provide the type of attacking contributions he has struggled to produce all season. Cahill has to scrap, fight and claw for the 50-50 balls against the physical Revolution just as much as he needs to be an aerial threat in the penalty area. He also needs to combine quickly and effectively with Henry.

In the 2013 postseason, Cahill executed that almost flawlessly in the first leg of New York’s doomed Eastern Conference Semifinals series vs. the Houston Dynamo. Partnered with Henry up top, Cahill scored a goal, set up another and put in a strong, workmanlike shift on both sides of the ball to help the Red Bulls pick up a 2-2 draw at BBVA Compass Stadium.

That is exactly the type of performance from him that has been missing for much of this year, and that could go a long way in helping Petke’s side get back into this series with New England.

What Cahill cannot be is the tactically undisciplined player who lacked urgency and was caught napping on the sequence that led to Jermaine Jones’ backbreaker of a goal in the 85th minute this past Sunday. He likely will not play the same position this weekend, but the point remains that he needs to be sharp, smart and as tough and combative as he is known for being in order to give New York a fighting chance in the decisive leg.

Replacing a player in Wright-Phillips who scored 27 goals in the regular season and four in the playoffs is not going to be easy, but if anyone on New York can help lessen the severity of the blow, it’s Cahill. He has the experience and talent to make an impact, and is more than capable of setting the tone with his grittiness and resolve.

Cahill does not offer the same type of skill set as Wright-Phillips. The Australian is nowhere near as fast, clinical or industrious as the 2014 MLS Golden Boot winner. What Cahill provides, however, is plenty of experience, experience that has seen him thrive at World Cups with Australia and at the club level with teams like the Red Bulls and Everton.

The soon-to-be 35-year-old Designated Player will need to bring that and more if New York is to get its back off the wall and salvage a season that is in grave danger of ending. Petke will most likely not ask Cahill to play the way Wright-Phillips does, but Petke will need Cahill at his best.

If Cahill steps up and plays more like the 2013 team MVP than the 2014 scapegoat, the Red Bulls just might pull off the shocking upset. But if Cahill doesn’t step up, the Red Bulls will almost certainly see yet another season end without a championship.


  1. Who benches their designated player, even though he’s fit? Red Bull, of course. Why? Because they’re such a dysfunctional, revolving door of an organization totally devoid of human decency, which just makes everyone disgruntled, and want to leave. Hence, they have given Cahill, too, Red Bull-itis.

    • Are you serious? Have you seen his performances for the Red Bulls this season? Doesn’t matter that he is a DP, he’s been bad and deserved a spot on the bench.

    • You can say lots of things about Mike Petke, but you can’t say that he doesn’t have guts. Benching a player with the salary that Cahill pulls down isn’t for sissies. And this is the guy who benched Henry last year.

  2. “The Australian is nowhere near as fast, clinical or industrial as the 2014 MLS Golden Boot winner. ”
    I think the word you want is industrious.

  3. Exactly right. This is Cahill’s biggest fame for RBNY. It is no overstatement to say that his MLS legacy game. We need tough, smart 2013 Cahill to re-emerge.


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