After leading the New York Red Bulls to a Supporters' Shield last season, giving the team its first major piece of silverware, Cahill enjoyed an impressive showing at the World Cup. He guided a young Australian team to a respectable performance in a brutally difficult World Cup group and scored one of the tournament’s signature goals.
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Cahill’s exploits helped him become the only Australian and just one of two MLS players to earn Goal 50 honors.
“I think firstly to play in a World Cup in itself is a massive achievement, but to have the recognition as a footballer is always nice,” Cahill said of being named among the 50 players from the past year. “Especially when you represent Australia and the MLS, so it’s very nice to know and obviously you work hard for rewards like this.”
Cahill was the driving force behind the Red Bulls’ run to the Supporters' Shield in 2013, scoring eight goals and providing leadership and toughness alongside French star Thierry Henry.
He followed that up with an outstanding showing at the World Cup, during which he scored against Chile and the Netherlands, with the latter goal turning heads around the world.
“It’s definitely up there as one of the best goals I ever scored,” Cahill said of his dream strike against the Dutch. “I remembered scoring a scissor kick against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, which is pretty special, (and) a second goal in 2006 World Cup.
“I’ve scored some great goals, but the moment, we’re 1-0 down and a minute later the cross from Miguel and the strike, everything was perfect,” he added. “The moment of drawing 1-1 against one of the best teams in the world in Holland, also the occasion and the fans and being in Brazil added that extra spice as well. Definitely one of my proudest moments as a footballer.”
Currently in his third season as a Red Bulls player, Cahill was quick to defend the quality of MLS, which has been the target of criticism from the likes of Ashley Cole, who essentially called MLS a retirement league.
“I think it has a massive status in world football, and it was proven with the way the (U.S. national team) did in the World Cup and how they’ve done in the past World Cups,” Cahill said of American soccer. “(MLS) is a tough league, and a lot of Premier League players can come over and think that it’s going to be easy but it’s not. It’s a league that needs to be respected, and also be mindful of the fact that it’s growing every year.
“Over time it will be a massive force,” Cahill added. “You see now in the last week, AC Milan here, Roma, Manchester United, Man City, Liverpool. This is just in the last week. Everyone wants to be a part of American soccer, regardless of whether they’re playing against our league. And (European teams) also want a piece of the action commercially as well.”
Cahill knows MLS isn’t perfect, though, and points to the league’s salary cap as something that is keeping the league from competing with the world’s biggest.
“I feel with the strategy and the structure of the payment plan really restricts MLS, which is a positive in itself because it keeps a lot of American talent and keeps the growth,” Cahill said. “But when you have a team at a cap of $3 million, it’s very difficult to attract the quality of the caliber in the Premier League. Whereas a player sitting on the bench could be on $3 million a year by himself in the Premier League.”
While he is now focused on trying to help the Red Bulls duplicate their success of 2013 this season, Cahill does have one eye looking toward the 2015 Asian Cup in January, which will be played in Australia.
“It’s massive. We’re on home soil and the onus is on us, especially after a good showing at the World Cup,” Cahill said of the Asian Cup. “Japan are definitely the favorites because of the team that they have, and the caliber of players.
“Our players are not really well known, which is great because, like in the World Cup, we got underestimated. A lot of young players, inexperienced but still good footballers.”
When asked which players might follow Cahill onto the Goal 50 list in 2015, Cahill pointed to a pair of 23-year-olds who faired very well in Brazil this past summer.
“I think players like Jason Davidson and Mathew Leckie, they really showed well in this World Cup,” Cahill said. “They’re young, they’re exuberant players. They’ve got a lot of energy, and it’s the future of Australian soccer. It’s bright for Australia.
“I was the oldest player on the team. We had a lot of youngsters so it was exciting times to be part of a great group and really express our way of football and leave our mark on the World Cup.”
The Australians will be looking to build on the buzz generated by the World Cup when they take the field in January, and while they will have to contend with powerhouse Japan, Cahill and the Aussies should have a good chance to lift a trophy at home.
“Now it’s all about us spending time together and helping the growth of the team, and really trying to target an impressive competition,” Cahill said. “If you ask me, realistically this could be the first ever chance of Australia getting any sort of silverware internationally.
“It’s at home, we’ve got a good team, we’ve got a great manager that sees the future and is also very ambitious,” Cahill added. “I’m also quite ambitious as well, and want to leave a footprint on Australian football, especially on Australian soil.”