Tim Cahill had been through a scoring drought before. He also knows there are more important things in soccer than just scoring goals.
The captain of the Australian national team and one of the Red Bulls' two designated players, much is expected of Cahill here in New York. Cahill signed with the team last summer and has the third-highest salary in MLS at $3.625 million. After signing with the Red Bulls last summer, he made an early splash and scored in his third match in mid-August.
He wouldn’t score again until late April of this year when he netted two goals in Toronto, ending a stretch of 19 games without a goal.
That drought, and a similar one at Everton where he once went 34 games without scoring, were never a concern for him, even in a league where big-money players are expected to score goals.
“I played 42 games [that season] and we finished top seven or six. I was a big part of that team. I played a different role and it isn’t always about scoring. Throughout my career I’ve scored important goals, a lot of winners and game changers. At the start of [this] season, I had chances that weren’t going in and it doesn’t faze me,” Cahill told Metro New York in an exclusive interview. “I actually feel that I probably played better at the start of the season than in some of the games where I scored goals but it doesn’t matter because it is all about assists and goals here. It makes no sense to me when someone says you haven’t scored in eight games. Now you see me still playing defensively and scoring goals.”
Counting the Toronto game, he now has four goals in the last five games including a last-gasp header this past Sunday in a 1-0 win over defending MLS Cup champion Los Angeles. But all along, his merits were more than scoring goals.
To his teammates, he is a leader. To his head coach, he is instrumental to the team’s very fabric on and off the field.
“I never considered him a goal scorer,” head coach Mike Petke said. “Yes, he’s a midfielder who can score goals but his ball movement, his vision, his pressing, then his leadership in the locker room for the young guys, his role model status for the young guys who watch the work that he puts in [are as important].”
Spend some time with Cahill and it quickly becomes apparent he isn’t the prototypical, flashy designated player in this league. After training at the Red Bulls facility at Montclair State University earlier this week, Cahill sat for this interview in a simple white T-shirt and jean shorts. He is substance over style.
“That’s all I know how to do, is lead a team — to be the player that they turn to on and off the park [and] be the guy who basically takes the rap for anything,” Cahill said. “To be a DP is one thing but the other side of it as well as being that player, well, I don’t mind not being in the limelight. My game is all about getting three points and getting the result.”
Cahill boasted an impressive resume before coming to MLS and yet was still very much in his prime when he signed with the Red Bulls last summer. Fellow designated player Thierry Henry came to the Red Bulls in large part due to his affinity for New York City, where he has an apartment and enjoys engrossing himself in the culture and the lifestyle. But when he signed with the Red Bulls last summer, Cahill wasn’t drawn to New York City as much as a lifestyle change.
He lives in north Jersey with his wife and four children and the change from Liverpool-based Everton, his last club, is something he calls “priceless.” The pressure and lifestyle associated with the sport in England and here in the United States is night and day and as a family man Cahill is soaking up this new experience.
“My kids enjoy the New Jersey lifestyle of space and the sunshine. I didn’t buy into the bright lights. I’ve only been here once with Everton and I wasn’t a big fan of being a footballer and being in the bright lights. Concentration is the most important thing and taking my job seriously,” Cahill said. “Yes, I’ve had some amazing times watching basketball and ice skating in Central Park and Broadway shows. But for me at 33, the most important thing is enjoying the games on the weekend, watching my kids play and enjoy school activities. For me, in England I was a robot. Here I’ve sort of got my life back.”
Follow Red Bulls beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.