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Bulls Abroad: Tim Cahill scored for Australia against Saudi Arabia

Jamie McDonald

If you watched RBNY's last couple of games in which he played - vs. CD FAS in CONCACAF Champions League and vs. D.C. United in MLS - you'll be aware that Tim Cahill has displayed a troubling lack of form in front of goal.

After an emotional summer, in which he scored one of the most beautiful - and technically difficult - goals of the World Cup, Cahill has sagged back into RBNY's midfield and done what he tends to do when paired with Dax McCarty behind Thierry Henry and a high-volume goal scorer (Kenny Cooper in 2012; Bradley Wright-Phillips in 2013): worked as hard as anyone for the team, at the cost of getting himself up the field and into scoring positions. Recent efforts to get him scoring again have only exposed some rustiness in that aspect of his game.

So the news that Tim Cahill scored Australia's first goal of a 3-2 win over Saudi Arabia on September 8, 2014, should be encouraging to New York Red Bulls fans.


Was it a great goal? No. It was a tap-in: Cahill surged into the box to kick in the rebound of a rebound that three Saudi defenders somehow failed to clear off their own goal line before he arrived on the scene.

But it was a goal. And the only way for Cahill to get back to the attacking force he was for RBNY in 2013 is for him to shake off the rust and start scoring again. This was a start.

The goal was also, perhaps, significant for longer-term reasons.

Why on earth does Cahill have to play in January's Asian Cup? -Sam Wallace, October 2010 (independent.co.uk)

There are, occasionally, exasperated murmurs in a fan base when a key player skips important league games to play "meaningless friendlies". In Cahill's case, any such criticism seems misguided, but it is not uncommon: search "Cahill meaningless friendlies" and you'll find plenty of discussion; indeed, his involvement in competitive internationals was occasionally a source of distress to fans of England's never-lacking-for-self-importance Premier League.

It is an odd grumble with regard to Cahill in particular because he has shown exemplary commitment to any team he has played for as a professional, and if you value that commitment and team-first ethic, why would you expect him to treat his country any differently than his club?

I'm not a player who picks and chooses -Tim Cahill (fourfourtwo.com)

Also, Tim Cahill is now 34 years old. He hasn't got another a lot of professional football in front of him, or even another World Cup (Never say never? Sure - but he seems pretty comfortable with the idea). He does, however, have one clear goal remaining as an international: the 2015 AFC Asian Cup. It will be held in Australia this January, and Cahill wants to represent his country in front of his compatriots. This is not a bad thing.

Indeed, for a player whose entire career has been characterized by the application of superlative helpings of effort, such ambitions are likely an essential part of what keeps the man working hard at his craft.

Of course I want to be part of the Asian Cup -Tim Cahill (sport-asia.com)

If Cahill wants to play for Australia in Australia in a competitive international tournament that might yield the biggest trophy he's ever won in his career (apologies OFC Nations Cup, MLS Supporters' Shield, and Football League Second Division - now League One - league title), this does not seem like something anyone ought to hold against him.

The "meaningless friendly" Cahill just scored in was Australia's first victory of 2014. It was also just the second win for the Socceroos under head coach Ange Postecoglou, who was appointed shortly before the World Cup with a mandate to refresh a squad considered to be past its best.

Postecoglou has brought many younger players into the national team. Conspicuously, two veterans of the previous generation remain: Mark Bresciano and Cahill. For all manner of reasons - some doubtless commercial; some sentimental - Postecoglou probably wants these two heroes of Australian soccer to get a last run in Asian Cup.

But to continue to justify their selection, they need to continue to prove their worth to the squad. One thing the Australian public is unlikely to tolerate will be the failure to win Asian Cup on home soil because the team couldn't bring itself to move away from its senior players. If Bresciano and Cahill are to be selected to the team in January (as expected), they must demonstrate their value now: in the handful of friendlies Australia has left before the tournament kicks off.

And if they aren't worth a place, that conclusion will also need to be based on more recent evidence than the World Cup - because how do you leave Cahill out of the Australian squad after THAT goal?

Postecoglou must form a functional attacking team around the New York Red Bulls player, while also using friendlies to establish who is the best replacement when he is unavailable -Andrew Cussen (footballcentral.com.au)

So Cahill needed to play in these friendlies - and he will likely need to play in the next set, scheduled for October 10 and 14 (which means he probably misses RBNY's home game against Toronto FC on October 11).

Furthermore, Cahill needs to score in these friendlies. Because for Australia, he is a forward (and his country's all-time leading goal scorer for good measure).

If he were scoring regularly for RBNY, maybe Postecoglou could get away with leaving Cahill out of the squad on the grounds that he is clearly in form and he needs to consider who to pick alongside him  in January. But since Mike Petke tends to play Cahill in midfield, and since Cahill simply cannot stop himself from putting the team's needs before his own, there isn't a great deal of evidence to suggest Tim's on top of his game - at least, on top of the game Postecoglou expects him to play - outside his form for the Socceroos. He has one goal in 18 appearances in 2014 for RBNY; he has six in his last seven games for Australia.

Cahill has openly described his desire to keep playing after Asian Cup, and he's by no means committed to doing that for RBNY. He has one year left on his contract, and that is the traditional time for players to start exploring other options. But it won't make him any less committed to the team in the short run.

What might unsettle him, however, is the possibility that consistently playing in a position for his club that doesn't match his presumptive role for his country damages his chances of making the Asian Cup squad - or, even worse, damages the Socceroos' chances in the tournament. If either possibility started to grow, because Cahill wasn't scoring and Australia wasn't winning, then RBNY might have a problem.

We have a few games coming up, we all need to be in camp, we all need to be ready and progressing to try and do that special moment in Australia that's going to mean everything -Tim Cahill (footballaustralia.com.au)

So this scrappy goal against Saudi Arabia was a good thing. It validates Cahill's role for his country (and it came against potential future opponents in Asian Cup). It gets him familiar with the whole ball-in-net routine that we've been missing from him this season in a Red Bulls shirt. And it probably makes him happy.

There's no reason Cahill can't play different roles for both club and country - and as long as both teams are winning, there's little reason for either to be perturbed. But both teams had been struggling. And if Cahill is ever asked to choose between his job and the land of his birth: well, he can always find another job (assuming he even needs to work).

Thank you, Saudi Arabia, for panicking on your own goal line and letting Tim Cahill sneak in for the tap-in. It was good for him and good for Australia - and that is certainly better for RBNY than most alternatives.

Safe flight, Tim. Hurry back: we need you focused on the red and white again.