10:00 am Aug. 1, 2012
The New York Red Bulls unveiled Tim Cahill to the public at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. Tuesday night, giving him a start and 45 minutes in a 2-1 loss to Tottenham Hotspur before a crowd of 21,701 evenly distributed in loyalties between the two teams.
To watch Cahill on the field prior to the game, you wouldn't have known he was about to play in his first game, or that he'd yet to train with the Red Bulls. He bounced around the field, talking to Kenny Cooper, putting an arm around Dax McCarty, working hard to make sure that he was in constant communication with his teammates.
This is exactly what the Red Bulls had in mind when acquiring Cahill, putting a talented director of creative play into their midst to connect the rest of the team with their strikers Cooper, Sebastian Le Toux, and most crucially, Thierry Henry.
Despite a lack of familiarity, Cahill didn't think twice about keeping quieter at first.
"That's what I do," Cahill told a group of reporters just outside the player entrance to the Red Bull Arena field following the game. "I have to try and earn their respect. You know, I'm new. So I think, sometimes, I just do what comes naturally to me, and that's what happened tonight."
Still, when it was time for the match to start, Cahill took several moments for himself, staring up into the crowd ahead of kickoff.
"Just taking it all in," Cahill replied when asked what he was thinking about as he did so. "Appreciate the stadium, appreciate the fans. You look up and say, 'This is New York City, this is the New York Red Bulls, this is a new chapter in my life.' And I just wanted to take it in and enjoy it."
Cahill did a good bit more than that in the match's opening minutes. He seemed, at first, to be everywhere, challenging the Tottenham players all over the field. Then, in the eighth minute, a Cahill move led to New York's first goal. He dummied a pass from Sebastian Le Toux, letting the ball find Dax McCarty, then sprinted down the center of the field. McCarty found Cahill as he moved ahead of the defense at just the right moment to avoid an offside call, then he got brought down in the penalty area. Kenny Cooper converted the penalty kick, and New York led.
Around the fifteenth minute or so, the adrenaline seemed to wear off and Cahill, still not fully in game-shape, slowed noticeably.
He put his arm around Spurs winger Aaron Lennon late in the first half, away from the ball. As he walked off the pitch and toward the players' entrance with the Spurs' Gareth Bale, the two having exchanged uniforms, he was greeted as a friend by members of both the Red Bulls and his longtime rivals at Tottenham.
The Red Bulls led at the half, 1-0.
"In the first half, we hardly gave them anything," Cahill noted. "That showed with our shape, that showed with our discipline. It was good to see. The second half, you know, was different."
After halftime, though Tottenham substituted some players such as Tom Huddlestone, their depth easily trumped that of the Red Bulls. And Bale, the most dangerous member of the club, played well into the second half. Tottenham scored two goals, but easily could have added several more, if not for the play of goalkeeper Bill Gaudette, who is threatening to make injured keeper Ryan Meara into a Wally Pipp.
Cahill declined to say how many minutes he would play on Friday in Houston, against a Dynamo squad that is just one point behind New York for the Eastern Conference lead. But he certainly sounded ready for the challenge.
"As long as I make myself available for the coach, and the team, that's all that matters. I'm here now."
And with that, Cahill thanked reporters for their time—usually, it is the other way around—and entered a Red Bulls locker room that is extremely happy to have him.