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Tim Cahill a question mark for tonight’s semifinal opener in D.C.

Nov 3, 2012, 9:29 AM EDT

Sporting Kansas City v New York Red Bulls Getty Images

D.C. United and New York have a tough act to follow after last night’s opening act of the semifinal round, but if the East’s two-three series is going to replicate the drama we saw in Seattle, it’s going to have to do so without one of its marquee players.

That’s because Tim Cahill, Red Bulls’ much-ballyhooed mid-season arrival, is a question mark, MLSSoccer.com reports:

Speaking to reporters on Friday for the first time since returning from Sweden to tend to personal matters, Backe said Cahill is the lone injury concern for the Red Bulls as they head into the first leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series at RFK Stadium. The Australian Designated Player has been held out of training all week.

“The only question mark is Tim Cahill, who has a calf injury,” Backe said via a conference call. “We will just have to make a late decision, I would guess. But otherwise, everyone seems to be ready.”

If the Australian international can’t go, expect Dax McCarty to be pulled back in from wide, with Jan Gunnar Solli the candidate most likely to take McCarty’s place wide right.

Don’t expect that to mean much in the middle of the park. Cahill came with big expectations, but thus far his production is scarcely better than we could have expected out of McCarty at New York’s more advanced midfield position.

That’s a complement, if a back-handed one. McCarty has had a fine season, one that will make many pundit’s Best XI. In 12 games, Cahill has matched the assist total McCarty accumulated in 33 games (three), not surprising given the areas of the field each has occupied. If McCarty were playing in a most advanced position, would he be able to match the one helper every four games New York’s gotten from their high-priced import? It seems more likely than far-fetched.

The playoffs give Cahill a chance to start living up to that $3.5 million-per-season price tag. Though it would be unfair to completely pass judgment on the 32-year-old based on only a dozen games (or use his salary as the sole measuring stick of his success), eventually, Cahill will have to make his way through this adjustment period.

If that doesn’t happen until March, Cahill wouldn’t be the first player to need a full preseason to adjust to life in North America. New York, however, may need to hasten that timeline if they’re to make it out of the East.

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