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Reminder: Tim Cahill is pretty good at this soccer stuff

The strangest thing about Tim Cahill's likely start in the Eastern Conference final second leg is that is a debatable concept.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Think back to 2013. If you were told the New York Red Bulls would be heading into the second leg of the 2014 Eastern Conference finals in need of at least two goals in New England to have any chance of advancing to MLS Cup, what would be your first question?

OK. After it is explained to you how this godforsaken group of playoff no-marks managed to get to the Eastern Conference finals in the first place (I'm assuming we're having this conversation after that game at Red Bull Arena, when Houston Dynamo'd our dreams), what is your second question?

Yes, Thierry Henry will play. Third question?

Peguy's on fire, no way he's getting dropped for this game. Yep, central attacking midfield; the idea that he's a forward took a while to die, but it seems to be in the past now.

Fifth question? Eric Alexander's a surefire starter these days, and not at the expense of Lloyd Sam. We're having our cake and eating it in Red Bull land in 2014, for sure.

Alright, time to stop the guessing game. The big shocker for this game is Tim Cahill will be playing up front!

What do you mean that shouldn't even be a question?

For RBNY, Tim Cahill's stock has fallen ludicrously low in 2014.

The 2013 MVP started the year up front, as expected, and then slowly became superfluous. BWP scored in that season-opening game, foreshadowing what would be one the best seasons of forward play ever witnessed in MLS. No room for Cahill up top, as the two-striker system was built for Henry + 1, and would eventually morph into a lone forward set-up - essentially turning the whole team into a supply chain for BWP's scoring spree.

In midfield, a position he'd played frequently in 2013, Cahill wasn't getting the goals to compensate for the sense that he was neither as creative as Peguy Luyindula, nor as tactically sound as Eric Alexander. Eventually, as international call-ups disrupted any effort to find a regular place for him on the field, Mike Petke stopped trying to force his boxing Socceroo into the lineup. Cahill became RBNY's $3.5 million impact sub.

So we reach the curious position where the Red Bulls are heading into a do-or-die game, absent BWP, and MLS has to resort to making a video explaining Tim Cahill can play as a forward.

We have a number of options...I'm considering everybody -Mike Petke (empireofsoccer,com)

More bizarrely, Petke keeps trying to hint that Cahill as a straight replacement for BWP in the line forward role is somehow not an obvious choice.

There is a world of soccer outside MLS, and Cahill hasn't lost his touch in that world. For Australia, he typically lines up as a forward, and he's scored seven goals in 2014. The Socceroos had a total of 11 goals in 11 games this year: Cahill is to Australia what BWP is to RBNY.

And now Cahill is asked to step into the shoes of the man who edged him out of the lineup. The team's 2013 MVP will take over from its 2014 MVP with one objective: keep the season going. Ironically, if he succeeds, it will almost certainly spell a return to the bench, since BWP simply cannot be kept out of the team if fit and available.

The game against New England is not Cahill's last chance with RBNY. He has next season to prove this lackluster year an aberration - if he so chooses (which is not to suggest he decides whether to have a good year or a bad one, just that he has made it clear he has other options).

Cahill has endured some rough outings for RBNY this year: his efforts to find a goal against CD FAS in CONCACAF Champions League were initially amusing, then bemusing, and finally just sad. Even the two goals he did manage to score in the regular season were overwhelmed: he scored each in games in which BWP got a hat-trick.

But, as he demonstrated so emphatically in the World Cup, Tim Cahill is an international-class goal scorer.

A glance at his regular-season shooting statistics provides some clue as to the problem he has faced, a problem familiar to anyone who has watched him playing for the Red Bulls this season. In 2013, he logged 2,243 minutes for RBNY in the MLS regular season, bounding forward regularly, often lining up as one of the primary front men. And he registered 55 shots, 21 on target, from which came 11 goals.

In 2014, he spent less time on the pitch - 1,516 minutes - and was mostly used in midfield, increasingly expected to serve the cause of stoking BWP's scoring fire. Cahill managed just 26 shots, eight on target, and two goals. The team no longer needed him to be a regular goalscorer, and he got fewer opportunities as a result.

Part of the decline in scoring is certainly down to a detectable lack of sharpness (again, that game against FAS was perhaps a low point). But part of it is also simply because he spent a lot of this season playing central midfield in a double-pivot with Dax McCarty, getting forward perhaps half as much as might be preferable for him to be getting on the score sheet regularly.

But RBNY's objective is not to boost Tim Cahill's scoring stats. BWP was getting the goals; Cahill was expected to focus on other tasks. Turns out he's not quite as good at those tasks as Alexander or Luyindula, so Cahill sits out.

Until, we expect, today. Not necessarily the Red Bulls' last game of the year, but it will require a win - and the right sort  of win - for the season not to end in New England.

Cahill has been here before. In 2013, RBNY's penultimate game of the regular season, the team also required three points to keep the (at the time) improbable dream of a Supporters' Shield alive. Petke started Cahill up front in Houston. And Cahill rewarded his coach and his team with one of the more extraordinary goals of his career.

Recent lack of evidence notwithstanding, Cahill can do the job for RBNY. He hasn't had many opportunities to prove that point this year, but he is getting the chance in the most important game of the season.

He is a committed player. He will put his head where I won't even put my foot in -Thierry Henry (bigapplesoccer.com)

We know he can do it because we have seen him do it for club and country over the last 12 months.

This doesn't mean he'll play well or be effective, not least because the Revs will have a say in the outcome of the Eastern Conference final. And the Revs are playing very well, at home, in front of what is expected to be an unusually large crowd.

The Red Bulls have plenty to worry about: Roy Miller's suspension; the impact of a hard, turf surface on the extremities of Jamison Olave and Thierry Henry; the absence of Bradley Wright-Phillips.

But let's not overstate the problem. Relying on Australia's all-time leading scorer and RBNY's 2013 MVP to put in a good shift is not a crazy gamble. Tim Cahill signed for this team in the hope he'd play this sort of role in this sort of game.

He may not have arrived at this point in the season or his presumed place in the starting lineup by expected means or in particularly impressive form, but he is worthy and capable of the assigned task.

Good luck, Tim. Make us proud.