The Red Bulls sit tenuously atop the East today – and it’s about as shaky a lead as any team can possible have.
First, Kansas City sits three points back and has a game in hand. That’s a Kansas City team that is undefeated in its last four matches, having soundly dispatched Columbus and Colorado in its last two league contests.
Worse, Montreal also sits three points back and has two games in hand. Marco Schallibaum’s team plays at home this weekend against fading Vancouver, so the opportunity to make up some of the points is there.
That means Mike Petke’s team in New Jersey is far from in the clear. Which means his club needs all the horsepower it can muster down the stretch.
Which is why Friday’s news that Tim Cahill is ready for action this week at Red Bull Arena against FC Dallas must be terribly welcome stuff for the Empire Supporters Club and everyone else around Red Bull Arena. Here’s what Cahill, who missed New York’s lasts two matches with an ankle injury, told MLSSoccer.com about his status
Physically, I’m fantastic. When you get 2-3 weeks off … you end up going in the gym and working on other parts of your body to get stronger and that’s what I’ve done. I’ve actually enjoyed the other side of being in the gym again. … It’s all about getting out and getting used to crosses again and footballing, and when the game comes, getting the service to deliver.”
New York is on a run of good results, with three consecutive wins since that dreadful loss to Chivas USA on Aug. 25. But Petke’s team still needs Cahill for two reasons:
First, they miss some bite in midfield tackling without him. Dax McCarty is always busy as a holding midfielder, pressuring and interrupting passing lanes, and he has worked hard on that part of his game (tackling, that is). But it is still not his forte, so Cahill helps make the midfield a tougher place to get through (when he plays in there, that is).
Second, regardless of these better results, New York still has this pesky inconsistency that it just cannot shake, this habit of playing well against better clubs but dropping a notch against the also-rans. Last week’s win at home over Toronto FC was far from convincing, and not secured until Fabian Espindola’s late insurance strike (in a 2-0 win.)
Cahill was on the bench for that one, but Petke had been clear that he wanted to rest the Aussie international one more week if at all possible, and that Cahill would be deployed only if the Red Bulls desperately needed him at the end.
New York meets FC Dallas at Red Bull Arena on Sunday.
For a lot of us, that meant delving into statistics and seeing what matched the eye test. Many started Googling the name “N'Golo Kante“, the dynamic disruptor who’d move to Chelsea in August.
He’s a household name now, with some personalities even arguing that he should buck the trend of Ballon d’Or nominees including only major statistic producers (There was a time when names like Fabio Cannavaro and Matthias Sammer claimed the honor, you know).
For our purposes, we’ll use a pair of advanced stats sites and the good ol’ eye test. (Of the sites we’re using, Squawka seems to skew toward high attack scores, while WhoScored tilts a bit toward the back, so life is good if a player hits both sites’ Top 50).
Before getting into our team — we promise no 10-picture, click-to-reveal-next stuff — some stats that stood out.
— Three players have had outstanding “short” seasons for different reasons.
Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi took a short spell to adjust to the Premier League after arriving in January, but has been the Foxes’ most influential player in their recent turnaround).
Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake essentially was the Cherries’ first-half success before heading back to Chelsea where Antonio Conte won’t move him ahead of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses (and that’s actually understandable as you’ll see below).
Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas just doesn’t feature a ton for Conte, but in limited time his per-90 stats on Squawka trail only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.
Ander Herrera (Manchester United, 7.44, 36.64) – Long-heralded at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera is finally showing what made him so sought. One odd stat that may be explained by his willingness to run to any situation: he’s very high in average times dribbled past.
Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, 7.34, 20.57) – The best player in Aston Villa’s awful 2015-16, he’s been arguably as effective as N’Golo Kante. Seriously.
Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) – Once the top player on a relegated QPR, Phillips is fifth in the Premier League in assists despite missing the last four matches with injury.
Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur, 7.41, 31.89) – Second in the PL in key passes, he doesn’t get the plaudits of English teammates Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The relationships are very symbiotic.
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, 7.44) – On an under-achieving team, Zaha’s statistics are wild. He’s the most-fouled player in the league, and attempts/completes the most dribbles in the PL. He gives the ball away a lot, too, but that happens when you’re the focal point of everything your team does in the attacking third.
Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, 30.54) – The Nigerian turns 21 in May, and has four goals and seven assists across all competitions.
“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.
“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”
There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).
We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.