HARRISON, N.J. – Tim Cahill returned to the New York Red Bulls from international duty with Australia earlier in the week with more than just the customary fatigue. Cahill also had a nagging calf injury and the club’s medical staff advised he not play on for two weeks.
Cahill refused to accept that diagnosis.
Three days after re-joining the Red Bulls, Cahill suited up and donned the captain’s armband for the club for the first time in a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union on Saturday. The Australian Designated Player lasted 59 minutes in a more advanced role than usual before being replaced by Thierry Henry, who is also recovering from an injury of his own.
“I basically gave them no option,” Cahill told reporters after New York’s first win of the season. “For the boss’ sake and the club, you have to give them headaches and make sure that you make yourself available because Thierry was injured as well, I didn’t even really know.
“But I felt after the 90 minutes I played in Australia and the way I prepared after the game and the way I prepared coming back on the flight [made me ready]. They told me not to train, I trained. The two doctors after the scan said it was a risk, but I think it was a good enough risk to take because of the scenario that we had today. … I just feel that for everyone this is what we should do. Players should play regardless.”
Cahill is no stranger to playing through injury. Last season, he gutted it out and played in both legs of the Red Bulls’ Eastern Conference semifinals against D.C. United with a torn calf muscle that he didn't mention until after the series was over.
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Still, by playing through the pain Cahill is risking causing more damage to himself and potentially leaving New York without one of their key players for an extended period. But he can’t help the desire to make sacrifices for the club. It's a big part of who he is.
“It was funny [on Friday] because they told me to stay inside and stay on the bike and next minute you know they turned around and I was on the training pitch,” Cahill said. “Again [Saturday] morning, the manager texted me this morning and I said to him, ‘I’m fine.’
“This is part of football, I don’t want anyone to be surprised. I just want to play football and enjoy it. I feel I’m young, my body is good and I suppose it was a bit of a risk but it was a calculated risk and I’m happy that we got the right result.”
Cahill was solid if nothing else in the win over the Union, helping New York look the more dangerous side for much of his time on the field. He attributed his solid performance to the way he prepared for the match – lots of rest and an ice bath following his game with Australia – and said afterwards to expect more of the same in the future.
“When I got back I was ruled out for two weeks and I wasn’t happy,” said Cahill, “I said, ‘At least give me a chance to prove my fitness and then we’ll see in the game.’ I felt fine. I felt like I was getting in behind, winning headers, closing people down, creating chances for others.
“To have the captain’s armband and to lead the team today, I feel that’s what you have to do as a footballer to play football. I’ve done that my whole career at Everton and Millwall and I’m going to do it my whole career here at the Red Bulls as well.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.