HARRISON, N.J. – If Tim Cahill is in preseason form as he so readily admits, the rest of MLS better watch out.
Playing in just the first half of the Red Bulls’ 2-1 friendly loss to Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday night, Cahill showed the type of quality that has so many around the league buzzing about his arrival. Not only did the Australian international show his offensive capabilities by drawing a penalty kick after making a well-timed run from the midfield in the seventh minute of the match, but he also showed his defensive discipline and leadership skills in a stellar Red Bulls debut.
“I’ve seen Tim so many, many years in the Premiership and I’m not surprised,” head coach Hans Backe said after the team’s eventual 2-1 loss. “It’s a huge, huge signing for us. Just picking up that penalty, the way he organized the midfield defending wise, the shape [in the] first half, phenomenal.
“He will be a major, major impact for us when he gets fits, gets games, competitive minutes,” Backe added. “He will just improve all the time.”
Cahill was constantly in the thick of the action for much of his 45-minute outing. He and central midfielder partner Teemu Tainio (who was making his first appearance for the Red Bulls since March) dictated the tempo against Spurs in the first 20 minutes of the match, and they also held up well defensively against the talented likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon.
WATCH: Henry, Backe on Cahill’s arrival
In fact, the Red Bulls entered the intermission leading 1-0 thanks to Kenny Cooper’s penalty kick finish that came after Dax McCarty picked out a streaking Cahill, who was tripped up in the penalty area before he could shoot.
Cahill admitted after the game that his role was more offensive-minded than Tainio’s, but he also pointed out that he is out there for more than just contribute to the attack.
“I think I pick and choose my runs, especially in a game like this because when you make an attack and they break on you, they always punish you,” Cahill said. “You’ve seen a few times we made two mistakes but we covered well for each other. I made the run, won the penalty, big Coops put it away and you’ve got to pick and choose, especially against these sort of opposition.”
The result aside, the 32-year-old Cahill admitted he enjoyed mostly everything about his debut with New York. From the ovation he got from the 21,000-plus in attendance to the team’s performance in the first half, Cahill took away a lot of positives from New York’s defeat to a Spurs side that is just a few weeks out from starting the Premiership campaign.
“As a footballer, you appreciate the stadium, you appreciate the fans and you look and you say, ‘This is New York City, this is the New York Red Bulls, this is a new chapter in my life,’” Cahill said. “I just wanted to take it and I felt it was a good display in the first half.”
Cahill will not have to wait long to build on his impressive showing. The Red Bulls visit the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium in an all-important Eastern Conference bout on Friday night (8 pm ET, NBCSN), and Cahill could once again get the nod despite not being at full fitness.
Cahill would not say how many minutes he believes he can play against the Dynamo or whether he thinks he will start. But he did admit he craves his first full practice session with his new club so as to get even more comfortable with his new teammates.
“As long as I make myself available for the coach and the team, then that’s all that matters,” Cahill said. “I’m here now so I’m just going to enjoy it. Hopefully, I’m going to train once with the team before the next game because I haven’t trained with the team at all since I’ve been here. … They trust me, so that’s the main thing, and I trust all of them and it showed today.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.