It won't be described as such, but Tim Cahill is essentially a replacement for Luke Rodgers, which for the sake of the game in this country is probably a good thing.
The Australian international, signed from Everton in a transfer deal worth a reported $1 million, has joined the Red Bulls and will be eligible to play once his work visa is issued and international transfer certificate secured. Unless his body just can’t handle the bruising and battering inherent in MLS, the Red Bulls have definitely upgraded, and not just by swapping a Designated Player for a journeyman.
Rodgers scored nine goals in 23 matches for New York last year following a protracted process by which the U.S. government temporarily blocked issuance of a P-1 visa because of several arrests he’d incurred while playing in the English lower divisions. Once he was arrested for assaulting an opposing player in a parking lot, and on another occasion a brawl outside a nightclub resulted in his arrest. He also paid a fine and served 100 hours’ community service for setting off a firework that struck a teenage girl in the face.
Though Rodgers steered clear of the law with the Red Bulls, once the season was done, visa problems arose again. When efforts to get him back for the 2012 season ran aground, his MLS contract was terminated.
He didn’t so much run as hurl himself forward, bludgeoning through tackles to get a foot or his head to the ball. Crude but effective, Rodgers provided a counterbalance to the skill and trickery of teammates Thierry Henry and Joel Lindpere. He also kept young U.S. internationalJuan Agudelo in the shadows, and when they couldn’t retain Rodgers the Red Bulls made other moves – such as getting Kenny Cooper in a trade – that included sending Agudelo to Chivas USA in exchange for Heath Pearce.
Cahill also plays a game rooted in ruggedness and effort. Several relatives play rugby, and his build resembles those of the tough, lean men who engage in the uniquely wild and frenzied game dubbed “Aussie Rules,” a frenetic mix of basketball, rugby, soccer, and American football. Strong on the ball and aggressive in the attacking third, he’s been a solid contributor with Everton and Australia, for which he played in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
In eight seasons with Everton he scored 68 goals in all competitions, and 56 in 226 Premier League appearances. For the past few years he’s been bothered by shin and foot injuries, and though he managed to play 41 games last season (35 in the Premier League) he scored only three goals. At 32, he’s nearing that cusp where age and injuries sometimes trigger an inevitable decline.
Red Bulls general manager and sporting director Erik Soler said, “He is the technical, physical presence we have been looking to add in our team and he brings a wealth of experience to our club having played in some of the highest levels of international soccer.” In simpler terms, he’s a quality attacker of relentless spirit who can torment MLS defenses, a real pain to play against.
How he’ll be deployed will be intriguing, since he’s a creator as well as a finisher though not really the traditional playmaker that some observers envision. Cahill is a factor on set plays, where sheer desire often decides who gets to the ball first. He’s not big (5-foot-10, 160 pounds) but he’s powerful.
As the team’s third DP, he strengthens an already potent attacking unit to which recent addition Sebastian Le Toux supplements Henry, Cooper and Lindpere. In effect, a swap of Le Toux for Agudelo not only punched up New York’s attack but prioritized this season over what might happen in the future.
New York may still have issues defensively but the offensive tactics won’t much matter if these guys get their games to mesh. They’ll be too explosive for most opponents to handle, and that’s a powerful element heading into the final third of the season.