In most recent years Major League Soccer has pushed hard to develop unique story lines for the casual sports fan to follow in the United States, in order to grow the sport overall. Along with that push comes the storytelling of some of MLS’ more unique personalities, which will hopefully be able to connect casual followers of the game with a personable element anyone can identify with. This past summer the New York Red Bulls brought another one of those unique personalities to the States in Australian and former Barclays Premier League star Tim Cahill. With a unique ethnic mix (Samoan and Welsh) and a strong outgoing personality, Cahill has mixed into the fabric of New York culture, trying to absorb as much as possible while helping lead New York to one of its most successful regular seasons to date.
Along with being an outgoing and fun loving elite athlete in New York, Cahill is also a gamer, and was part of the team that MLS identified to help launch EA Sports FIFA ’13 game late last month in New York.
We caught up with the Red Bulls’ star to talk soccer, life in New York and video games.
Are you a gamer? If so what are your favorites to play?
I’m a massive gamer. I think for me, I’m lucky enough to have a relationship with EA Sports and FIFA is the number one game in my household. I play with my two boys especially and now it’s the Red Bulls team, which is pretty special.
I think FIFA is the next and closest thing to being an athlete and having that experience. It’s nice in your downtime to chill with the family and play games and enjoy it together.
Coming to the States in midseason must have been a bit of culture shock, what has it been like adjusting to life in New York?
I think I’m lucky in the last eight years, maybe longer, to have traveled to America and spent two to four weeks here in my offseason. It’s a beautiful place, the people are fantastic and I love the passion that they have for sport in general – in schools, off and on the pitch, whether it’s NFL, NBA, hockey and obviously now in MLS. I think the entertainment factor is on a different level and when you see before the game car parks full of barbeques and kids kicking footballs and boys and girls having fun, it’s a different element that’s really opened my eyes to what’s important, which is family and sports. I’ve really enjoyed it, the Americans have really opened my eyes to how much you should enjoy sports and embrace it. They’re pretty enthusiastic about all of their sports and I’m happy to be here.
What appeals to you about playing video games, especially the new EA FIFA game?
It’s simple. I think as you saw at the FIFA Launch the other day, it’s the next best thing to being a footballer. You see the way Victor Cruz was and a few of the other boys. I played (Osi Umenyiora) from the Giants and we were in the moment. You can’t control your feelings and your emotions. It’s just what a video game does to you and the way it brings out your personality. Standing behind Snoop and watching him, he was kicking every ball. But this is our lives – they’re really competitive and it’s great to have fun. It’s the next best thing to being a footballer. It’s putting you on the pitch and changing tactics and learning different things and playing that through ball and getting that vital goal to win. There were a lot of big superstars there the other night but I think deep down inside, we’re all big kids at heart. Other than being out and about, it’s nice to be home with the family playing video games like this.
The culture of soccer in the States is evolving and really took a step forward in recent years, what have you noticed about the way the game has grown amongst fans here in the States in recent years?
The biggest that I’ve noticed is how much the fanbase has grown, how passionate they are, the stadiums filling up, the facilities being first class and also the grassroots (efforts). One of the biggest things I’m passionate about – my kids are on a local team but the boys and girls, the age groups and how hard their parents are working to make their kids better or just to have fun. But I think this is probably one of the biggest things with me moving to the States is trying to get involved with the grassroots, working with young kids, inspiring them to play football and it’s fantastic for the sport. I think it’s a massive sleeping giant in this country, soccer in general, and when you’ve got the biggest (leagues) in NFL, NBA, they’re good platforms to look towards to build from because they’ve been there, done it and obviously, controlling the whole market whereas MLS is progressively growing every year and you’re getting the Premier League clubs coming here, you’ve got (big clubs like) Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain coming here. There’s a reason why a lot of the best teams in the world and best players come here and it’s a massive compliment. For me, it’s slowly progressing and hopefully, be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come.
Coming from Everton a club with such great tradition what has it been like to be in a city with so much competition for sports fans?
It’s pretty surreal. Like I said, the biggest (teams), New York Giants, New York Jets, the Knicks, the Yankees, some of the biggest brands and then you have the New York Red Bulls. The power of the brand is ridiculous, but the main thing is making sure that you’re trying to do the best for your club and your sport. There’s not much more to say for me except to just enjoy it. But I suppose we can take a leaf out of each other’s books as (organizations) and learn something and try to build from it.
Red Bull is such a global brand, what has it been like being part of their signature soccer club?
It’s fantastic because I get to put the right messages out through one of the most powerful brands in the world and that’s inspiring the kids to play football, helping at a grassroots level and flying the flag. Things like being on the cover of FIFA for Australia, New Zealand and obviously the limited edition version, it’s massive. This is part of where I wanted to be. I’ve had 15 years of experience at the highest level and I’ve done it on the international stage and now this is sort of the reward for the hard work to kick on, to do the right things both on and off the park and obviously fly the flag for the Red Bulls all over the world.
What has been the biggest surprise coming to MLS?
I don’t think I’ve been surprised, I think it’s more embracing everything. Embracing how hard the teams work, the competition, how difficult it is. It’s not something that I took for granted just because I played in the Premier League that it was going to be easy. If anything, I think I’ve had to work harder and really make sure I’ve been on top of my game to try and fall in place with what I have to adapt with. The fan element, the fireworks, all this sort of stuff I speak about, it’s pretty special. The playoff system – it’s something that’s more about embracing instead of looking towards what to expect or adapting. I’ve just enjoyed it and the thing is, I don’t want to miss a training session, I don’t want to miss a minute of football competition wise.
You have such a unique ethnic background, how has Samoan culture figured into your style of play?
I think that’s probably been the main pinnacle point of who I am: started with nothing, ended up with everything but still the same person. The biggest thing I can take from my culture in Samoa is respect. It doesn’t cost anything to say please or thank you and always to leave a presence of humbleness wherever you go. I’m lucky enough that I had the experience of going to Samoa as a kid and going every other year to see kids without footwear, basic clothes, with limited food and living with limited lifestyles. So every time I take out onto the pitch or do anything, I know that I’ve got the best job in the world, I never complain and the thing is, I know that there (are other) people that are more worse off. My culture is a big thing for me and Samoan people are very humble and obviously, give off that respectful vibe and that’s something I want to make sure that I give off on and off the pitch.
New York has quite a large Aussie community, have you been recognized when you are out and about?
I think I’m lucky enough that there’s a lot of Australians that travel the world and (New York) does have a community. I haven’t really been out and about that much because we’ve been on a tight schedule but yeah, it’s nice to be recognized. Here and there, people, whether they’re European and know the Premier League or English, have stopped me and (I’ve) seen the Everton jerseys in the crowd. But yeah, I’ve met a few Aussies but I haven’t been out and about too much to see all that.