Tim Cahill’s arrival into Red Bull Arena seals the deal: The New York Red Bulls have assembled the sweetest collection of talent Major League Soccer has ever seen.
The Red Bulls newest high-dollar man met media Monday, answering questions about a move from Everton that fell quickly and neatly into place as the transfer period was closing last week.
So now, along with Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez, Kenny Cooper, Dax McCarty, Wilman Conde, Joel Lindpere, Heath Pearce, Sebastien Le Toux, Teemu Tainio and others, this is the best assembly of talent the league has seen in 17 years.
Even some of the highly skilled teams of MLS past (D.C. United or the Chicago Fire sides of the late 1990s, for instance) really can’t match what general manager Erik Soler and coach Hans Backe have put together for Red Bull Arena. Clubs didn’t have access to the Designated Player mechanism back in the day (even if something like it may have been functioning unofficially), so those teams simply couldn’t cook with such rich ingredients.
Los Angeles won MLS Cup with a full cupboard of DPs last year, plus talented support in Omar Gonzalez, Todd Dunivant, Juninho and others.
But role players contributed significantly, as well. The collective roster quality and depth was not (and is not now) equal to what the Red Bulls have stitched together.
Henry and Marquez are world class talents. (Marquez doesn’t really make the team better, in my opinion, but if we’re just talking about talent “on paper,” he has to be part of the conversation.)
Cooper, McCarty, Pearce, Conde and Lindpere are players who could walk into most MLS clubs and be an immediate starter. Possibly Le Toux as well. Tainio, center back Markus Holgersson and defender/midfielder Jan Gunnar Solli could find starting roles on plenty of MLS teams.
Goalkeeper Ryan Meara may yet make a run at Rookie of the Year, assuming he can get healthy and regain his starting spot.
McCarty has settled in as defensive midfielder. Marquez and Tainio can play there, too.
But the hole in New York has been a connector, a box-to-box type who can add numbers to the attack, which adds pressure on defenses. Too many opportunities to serve balls into danger spots have come and gone for New York with just one or two attackers near goal. They needed someone to arrive late, to pick up balls that Cooper, Le Toux or Henry couldn’t, or to zip into areas where Henry can find him.
That’s Cahill’s specialty, arriving late to score an inordinate number of headed goals for a man of average size; he really is the perfect fit. And remember, we’re talking about a team that’s already leading the Eastern Conference.
If there’s a weakness now, Hans Backe’s team may be a little narrow in the attack. But that’s just a wee nitpick. Building teams under a salary cap means no roster will have everything.
But New York has a lot. On paper, it’s the most impressive collection of talent we’ve seen yet.