Tim Cahill relishes hero role for New York Red Bulls: "You play for moments like this"

At the beginning of the season, Tim Cahill was the target of immense criticism from media and fans due to his lack of goalscoring and status as one of the New York Red Bulls’ well-paid Designated Players.

Now, such talk no longer exists.

Cahill has replaced that early-season scrutiny with plenty of adoration thanks to timely goals like the one he scored Sunday night to save his club from defeat, his leadership qualities and willingness to sacrifice for the better of the team. His DP label is currently more justified than it ever has been.

“Tim never ceases to amaze me, with his work rate, with his attitude, with his rallying the troops,” said Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke after Sunday night’s 1-1 road draw vs. the Seattle Sounders. “It’s just another game for Tim in a long string of games this year like this.”

The 33-year-old veteran has played through multiple injuries in 2013 and shown no rust in returning from two of the more serious knocks he has sustained (a PCL tear in his right knee and ligament damage in his right ankle). He has led by example throughout the year, with his performance in a rainy CenturyLink Field on Sunday night being the latest instance.

Cahill not only led a short-handed New York side missing three key starters in Thierry Henry, Jámison Olave and Bradley Wright-Phillips to a result in a tough environment, but the Australian international also provided a beautiful equalizer.

In the 76th minute, with things looking grim for the league-leading Red Bulls, Cahill came through in the clutch just as he had in wins against the LA Galaxy and Columbus Crew earlier in the year. He curled a shot perfectly into the far top corner, pulling New York level and silencing the rowdy Seattle crowd.

“I screamed as loud as I could to Jonny [Steele] to over it,” said Cahill, who has nine goals and four assists on the season. “Jonny just touched it, it sat nicely and I thought about dragging it with my right foot and smashing it with my left. But the ‘keeper was just sort of faced to his right a bit and I tried to find the side corner and it hit.

“That’s what I said to the lads, ‘You play for moments like this, defining moments that change games.’ My whole career, I’ve looked to try and make a difference in front of big crowds and against the best teams in the leagues everywhere I’ve played. And tonight, that was it so it’s pretty special, but not for me. For my team.”

That team is now a stone’s throw away from reaching the playoffs with three regular season games left to play. No, the Red Bulls are not officially in yet but they are very close, and Cahill’s performances are a big reason as to why.

“For me, like I said to the boys, ‘Every week it’s all about three points. We just concentrate on the next game,’” said Cahill. “We’re going to prepare this whole week for next game at home and see what happens, because all we can affect is ourselves. The only way we lose games is when we give them away.”

Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.