For the better part of the last two years, Thierry Henry has been the de facto captain for the New York Red Bulls.
That might change in 2013.
With the Red Bulls expected to name a new head coach in the coming weeks, one of the eventual decisions that will have to be made is who will wear the armband next year. Henry is the obvious choice, but 2012 acquisition and fellow Designated Player Tim Cahill also seems a likely candidate after impressing with his leadership qualities on the field and in the locker room during his first five months with the club.
There is a growing sense of respect within the Red Bulls organization for what Cahill brings from a leadership point of view. In fact, Red Bulls sporting director Andy Roxburgh was full of praise for the Australian international during his initial media session last month.
“Tim Cahill, what he did here after the last match [a 1-0 loss to rivals D.C. United in the playoffs] was fantastic,” Roxburgh said. ”Thierry Henry went out and applauded the crowd as he often does, he’s got great respect for the fans, but what Tim did was remarkable: [with] no jersey on, and it was freezing cold, and he went right along the bottom line there and shaking hands with people in the front row just to show he appreciated them.
“That’s a pro,” Roxburgh added. “You understand that professional footballers are about the fans. No fans, no game, and if you don’t show that you respect them and appreciate them, then you lose them.”
Cahill understands more than just what it takes to show supporters his appreciation. The 33-year-old midfielder has also made a positive impact in the locker room since joining the Red Bulls from Premiership club Everton in July.
While the Red Bulls were attempting to make a deep run in the playoffs, the gutsy Cahill was playing with a torn calf muscle. He suffered the injury in the regular season finale against the Philadelphia Union, but made no mention of the severity of his injury until after New York’s elimination.
Then came his now well-known interception of reporters who were attempting to get comment from a vulnerable Kenny Cooper following that loss to United.
“I didn’t know anything about Tim Cahill aside from watching him play for Everton, but he completely surprised me with his positive attitude, never anything negative,” interim head coach Mike Petke told MLSsoccer.com. “Who knows what he’s thinking in his mind, but never anything negative, always pushing the guys on, always the first in the locker room to be offering up advice.
“Like you saw with Kenny, to be shielding him in a time when Kenny was very down, to protecting his teammate, it shows the type of person he is and the qualities he has,” Petke added. “If you look up and see a Tim Cahill acting like that, there’s no reason why a rookie coming out of college should be acting any differently.”
That message indeed appears to have resonated with some of the younger players at the club.
“He’s just continuously looking to try and get everyone on the same page and everyone to improve, and it’s just the type of person he is,” rookie defender Connor Lade told MLSsoccer.com. “He really genuinely cares about the team … and to see a guy that’s played at the highest level, in World Cups, in the Premier League, it’s really refreshing to see.”
Neither Cahill nor Henry have talked about the captaincy since the Red Bulls’ season ended, but this much is clear: Cahill has made a strong case for himself in a short amount of time.
“He’s the first guy that’s lifting everybody up, the first guy not [complaining] when things are going down,” said Petke. “That right there is huge for us in that locker room. I’m very happy to see that.”