Still no trophy but lots of interest now in Mike Petke’s Red Bulls

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Thierry Henry. (Howard Megdal)
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Turnout was in the hundreds at New York Red Bulls media day, held this year at Pier 59 Studios in Chelsea Piers.

New coach Mike Petke, who has been part of more media days than anyone, noted that at his first media-day appearance, as a player back in 1998, eight media members showed up.

Things have changed for Major League Soccer, and for the franchise once known as the Metrostars.

At least off the field. On the field, the Red Bulls will still be trying to win the franchise's first-ever trophy, kicking off the regular season March 3 against the Portland Timbers.

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Tim Cahill, the team's high-priced import last summer from Premier League side Everton, hasn't been a member of the Red Bulls for very long. Yet he's an indelible part of a signature team failure, famously steering Kenny Cooper away from reporters after the talented striker missed a penalty kick that would have given the Red Bulls a lead against D.C. United in last fall's M.L.S. playoffs.

Cahill talked to reporters yesterday about "coming in and adapting to a messy situation," sounding as if he were referring to the discord on the team last year, leading to the dismissal of coach Hans Backe.

But when a reporter asked Cahill to elaborate, he put his answer in pure soccer terms.

"I think it was obvious to see," Cahill continued, turning the question into a referendum on the Red Bulls' defense. "In 15 games, conceding 15 goals.  ... That's no criticism for what it was before, but it has to be a lot more compact, disciplined. I think, to me, Petke's going to bring that."

Cahill, with a full offseason to get fit and a preseason to coordinate with his teammates, believes that while the history of Red Bull failures may weigh upon the fan base, it doesn't affect him.

"I'm not a part of history," Cahill said. "I'm part of the future. What happened in the past, I can't really take the credit or the blame. What I can do is be responsible for what happens in the future."

Cahill never played at his top level in his first half-season with the Red Bulls, but his only more famous teammate, Thierry Henry, thinks the full offseason of preparation will change what Cahill brings to the team.

"Oh, it will be totally different," Henry said of Cahill. "Tim, you have to give him a lot of credit. He played a lot of games, not being fit."

While players like Henry and Cahill simply need to play at established levels, other Red Bulls, like Lloyd Sam and Jonny Steele, have more pedestrian concerns.

Sam, a promising attacking winger who played briefly for the Red Bulls last season, was retained by new management in January, and needs to find a place to live.

"It meant a lot to me to come back," Sam said. "We came back January 22, and I found out maybe January 10. I still had my place from last season, but now I have to find a new place. But it's exciting, finding a new place."

And newly acquired midfielder Jonny Steele, signed just last week, was even more unsettled, coming over from Northern Ireland, where he'd been visiting his family.

"I found out on Monday, and flew out on Tuesday," Steele said. "Met the team in Arizona for four days, I've been here today, and figuring out where I'm going to live. I just brought clothes for a few days, and I'll get the rest sent whenever I can."

When the event ended, Steele planned to see New York City for the first time. 

"I'll be a tourist," Steele said, smiling.

Elsewhere in New York sports:

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Lucas Duda will be held out of spring games while he works on his swing.

In Monday night's 6-4 loss to the Nationals, Ike Davis crushed one, and Matt den Dekker made a miraculous catch.

Frank Francisco has started throwing again.

YANKEES

Curtis Granderson's injury means more potential playing time for Matt Diaz.

KNICKS

The Knicks are wisely limiting Amar'e Stoudemire's minutes to 30 per game.

NETS

P.J. Carlesimo intends to fix his mistake of benching Brook Lopez in recent fourth quarters.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Seton Hall managed to upset Villanova, 66-65.