HARRISON, N.J. – It took only a few days for Tim Cahill to conclude his eight-year career at Everton and start the next chapter of his career in MLS.
In stark contrast to the ongoing transfer sagas that can paralyze clubs for the duration of the transfer window, Cahill wrapped up his move with a minimum of fuss. He met with Everton chairman Bill Kenwright and manager David Moyes and picked up their blessing to make a stunning and unexpected move to New York before MLS' secondary transfer window slammed shut last Friday.
“I think with opportunities in football, you can't stutter,” Cahill said during his introductory press conference on Monday. “It was pretty quick when it was asked of me. And the main thing, for me, was speaking about the football side of it, the professionalism of the league and then, tackling what is most important to me, my family. It all seemed to fit.”
Few, if any, people with the Red Bulls thought all the particular pieces to this transfer would come together in time. Cahill popped up in the waning stages of the club's search for a dynamic and incisive midfield player to provide support to Kenny Cooper and Thierry Henry, but Red Bulls officials weren't sure he represented a viable target given the options available to him. In what now looks like a prudent move, they tried to sign him anyways.
“We've been looking for a central midfielder, kind of a box-to-box player, and his name came up quite late,” New York coach Hans Backe said after the press conference concluded. “We also thought that he was a guy who would stay in the Premiership. He had offers from other Premiership clubs. In a way, it was like it shouldn't be possible, probably. He's young and he's fit. We said yes directly. If there's any interest from him, just go for it.”
Cahill, surprisingly enough, entertained the inquiry despite the two years still left to run on his contract and Everton – desperate for cash to secure the permanent return of Steven Pienaar from Tottenham – welcomed the move as well. In the span of a few days, all of the involved parties agreed to terms and the Red Bulls landed yet another international star to fuel their MLS Cup pursuit.
“I'm not someone to mince my words,” Cahill said. “I made sure it happened. I have the commitment to the football club and to MLS to give everything. There were still two years left on my contract. Part of me was mixed emotions, but it's done and I'm so happy now. I can't wait to get started.”
With Cahill in the fold and prepared to make his debut in a friendly against Tottenham on Tuesday night, the Red Bulls must now find a way to integrate a player well suited for the demands of MLS into the starting XI as they prepare for the stretch run.
In tactical terms, Cahill's spot within the Red Bulls' setup isn't particularly hard to discern. His strengths – particularly his direct and powerful approach and his late runs into the penalty area, both traits that should allow him to succeed Stateside – are best suited to fill the somewhat gaping hole between the midfield and forward lines. More often than not, Cooper and Henry have lacked for the proper aid from central midfield this season, as shown by the former French international's proclivity to drop deep into those areas to obtain possession and provide opportunities for other players.
Henry's penchant to move into midfield should soon turn into an option rather than a mandate. If Cahill finds the form that deserted him for much of the past two seasons with Everton and progresses toward full match fitness quickly (Backe said he will play Cahill for 45 minutes against Spurs and will hope the Australia international can play all 90 minutes as soon as next Friday's match against Houston), then he can serve as the primary option to drive the Red Bulls forward into the final third.
“Naturally, Tim will go forward,” Backe said. “He's dangerous in the attacking game as a late runner in midfield. Teemu [Tainio] is more of the holding guy, Dax [McCarty] has been more of a holding guy. The balance, I feel right now, will be much better.”
Cahill's arrival, McCarty's exemplary play in that holding role and Tainio's promising recovery from a knee injury provides Backe with plenty of central midfield choices without eliminating all of the potential complications in other areas of the squad.
If Tainio can come all the way back into the squad, Backe will probably turn his sights to addressing a potential vacancy on the right flank (he noted that he sees Sébastien Le Toux as a forward, not a midfielder) by using the budget room created by Mehdi Ballouchy's departure to San Jose on Monday morning to supplement his wide options. The lingering questions surrounding Rafa Márquez's place in the team (a place in central defense is more likely now with Cahill in the fold, but he hasn't played particularly well in that spot) also offer a potentially sticky sideshow as the season progresses.
Those particular concerns about doling out playing time stand in stark contrast to the significant depth issues Backe and the Red Bulls confronted for much of last season and the pervasive injury problems encountered earlier in the campaign. The current group is far stronger than last season's edition with the emergence of Brandon Barklage and Connor Lade as valuable contributors and the return to health of several key figures (including the potentially influential Tainio) over the past few weeks.
For all of the talk about injuries and increased depth, the Red Bulls' success or failure to meet those lofty expectations ultimately rests more with the production supplied by Cahill and Henry as the season winds to a close. By making a decisive and quick move to sign the ex-Everton talisman, the Red Bulls have now assembled all of the pieces required to contend for postseason glory and provided Henry with a reliable midfield figure to assume some of the attacking burden.
Now it is up to Backe and his players to finally cobble everything together at the right time and locate the proper level of consistency to ensure this ambitious and timely move to sign Cahill yields the desired dividends at the end of the campaign.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.