Captain Clutch. The best Socceroo of all time. MLS MVP? With his knack for scoring game-saving goals, New York Red Bulls midfielder Tim Cahill might bring home some personal hardware this year.
“When you play against the big teams, that’s when the fans look to you, that’s when your teammates look for you to show up,” Cahill told Christopher Sullivan and Nick Kostos Friday on SiriusXM FC’s Counter Attack.
Without Cahill’s play – he scored 11 goals and added four assists in 26 games this season – the Red Bulls wouldn’t have secured the league’s best regular season record, 17-9-8, and won Major League Soccer’s Supporters’ Shield.
Cahill has also fought through a torn PCL and a recent ankle injury. Sullivan asked Cahill if he’s feeling close to 100 percent yet.
“Most definitely not. All I said to the doctors a few weeks ago was, ‘Let’s just get to December,’” when the MLS cup is played, Cahill said. “People call me a warrior and it’s such a great attribute to have, but this is our job. And when the players around you see that you’re playing in every single game regardless of what’s going on, it grows confidence in other players.”
The passion from Cahill and the rest of the Red Bulls’ roster stems from first-year head coach Mike Petke, who grew up in the area and played for the Red Bulls himself. He joined Counter Attack Monday and told John Harkes and JP Dellacamera what it meant to bring home some hardware for his team.
“It’s a phenomenal feeling,” Petke said. “it’s a great thing for our organization, for our supporters especially. It’s a credit to our players who really did everything we asked of them.”
Many believe the turning point in New York’s season was a relatively public verbal altercation with star forward Thierry Henry, which occurred midway through the season. Petke said he doesn’t agree.
“I honestly think that if that blowup never happened and it was just Thierry coming into my office and us having a conversation, I think you would’ve seen the same thing,” Petke explained.
Instead, it may have been Petke’s understanding in the importance of detail as a head coach.
“Being a rookie coach, I assumed many things, when perhaps that’s the greatest mistake a coach can make,” Petke explained. “To assume that players know certain things. We really refocused around that time. I remember stopping practices around that time and moving a player, literally, a foot-and-a-half to the right to better his angle.”
While the added emphasis on detail lead the team to the league’s best record, regular season success alone won’t cut it for Petke.
“I told them after the game I wanted them to enjoy the moment, because it is a big deal for the organization,” Petke said. “But starting [Monday], it’s a great memory and we have a big task at hand.”
The Red Bulls begin their quest for their first MLS Cup Sunday at 3 pm ET in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals against either the Montreal Impact or Houston Dynamo.
“Our mentality is strong,” Petke said. “We need to continue to do the simple things that we’ve been doing. Overall, it comes down to us understanding that this is a five-game tournament, and there is no more learning from losses. Pretty much you lose in this competition and you’re out.”
You’ll be able to hear the Red Bulls and all the other top teams throughout the MLS playoffs on SiriusXM FC, channel 94.