Season Reviews

Season review: Conor Casey

Photo: Earl Gardner

Editor’s note: PSP continues its annual tradition of producing season reviews for each Union player. We’ll run one review per weekday between now and Thanksgiving.

When Colorado Rapids manager Oscar Pareja decided to cut ties with Conor Casey following the 2012 season, it seemed the veteran striker was not long for MLS. On the wrong side of 30, the bulldozing Casey had never been the fleetest of foot even before a ruptured Achilles tendon had drastically limited his participation in 2011 and 2012.

But John Hackworth, in his continuing effort to reintroduce strength and veteran leadership into a team stripped of it by his predecessor, used his second-round pick in the 2012 re-entry draft to bring the Denver man to Philadelphia.

It was a gamble, but only a small one.

With 50 MLS goals and 19 USMNT caps to his name, Casey was always going to bring something positive to the Union. Even if he failed to rediscover the form that saw him lead the Rapids to their first MLS Cup in 2010, he could still be a leader on the practice field and share his experience with the Union’s young nucleus. If Casey could get back to full fitness, the Union would have the target forward they so desperately needed.

It proved to be the shrewdest move of Hackworth’s first campaign in charge at PPL Park.

High point

June 23, 2013.

Casey simply dismantled the New York Red Bulls back line, grabbing a brace as the Union roared to their second straight home victory by a 3-0 scoreline. With Sebastien Le Toux launching in all the balls a forward could possibly want from the right flank, Casey smashed home a classic, near-post diving-header, before showing off his craft to softly touch past Luis Robles to put the Union on the road to a much needed victory over their rivals.

Low point

Asked to shoulder an immense amount of responsibility towards the tail end of the season, Casey appeared to run out of gas during the Union’s final playoff push. After suffering injury shortened seasons in 2011 and 2012, he was asked to play more minutes in 2013 than in both those seasons combined. It began to show on the pitch, especially when he was deployed in isolation. He scored only once in the Union’s final 10 matches, and the frustration was etched plainly across Casey’s face. Without a player to consistently run off him, he began to do too much, conceding fouls with reckless abandon and sniping at referees in a way that he never had earlier in the campaign.

Strengths

Strength and that big, shiny head. Casey is a classic target forward, one who is equally happy playing with his back to goal, crashing into the box to power home a diving header, or laying off the ball for an onrushing teammate. For the first time in their four year existence, the Union had a big body to aim for in the attacking third.

But power and aerial ability are hardly his only attributes. Isolated in a small media market in Colorado, fans across the country never got to see Casey on a regular enough basis and may have failed to realize just how skilled he is with the ball at his feet. During the hot summer months of 2013, a fresher, more energetic Casey could be seen wheeling out to the left flank to provide service into the box or dropping into the midfield to pull the strings for Jack McInerney, Danny Cruz, or Le Toux.

Weaknesses

As the season wore on, however, Casey wore out. Lugging that big body around simply took its toll, as Hackworth started him in 19 of the Union’s final 20 matches. Already lacking the pace to challenge defenders on the dribble, Casey struggled, focusing more and more on keeping his level of physicality up, and his play with the ball at his feet also suffered. Given his lack of mobility, the game around Casey needs to be simplified. Knock-down balls and headers towards goal are his meat and drink, but given the Union’s lacking midfield, the service of both ran dry. With little ability to create his own chances, the goals stopped coming.

Outlook

It is hard to expect the Union to get anywhere near the amount of minutes — and probably production — from Casey as they managed this season. He can certainly still feature prominently for a team that will be looking to drastically upgrade its midfield in the offseason, but there is no shame in giving him the treatment other valuable veterans around the league receive, i.e. missing certain away trips, especially those on artificial turf.

Casey still has something to give to the Union and MLS, but it will depend on the pieces around him. The coaching staff’s ability to implement an improved game plan will dictate his effectiveness.

Stat chart legend:
POS: Position; GP: Games Played; GS: Games Started; MINS: Minutes; PA: Passes Attempted; PC: Passes Completed; P%: Passing Accuracy Percentage; TO: Turnovers (not from incomplete passes); G: Goals; A: Assists; SOG: Shots on Goal; SOG/S%: Percentage of Shots that are on Goal; G/SOG%: Percentage of Shots on Goal Converted; SC%: Scoring Percentage; G/90min: Goals per 90 minutes; Hm G: Home Goals; Rd G: Road Goals; FC: Fouls Committed; FS: Fouls Suffered; YC: Yellow Cards; RC: Red Cards

4 Comments

  1. Spot on — except that saying “just how skilled he is with the ball at his feet” is an understatement. The guy actually has fantastic passing vision, and demonstrated this again and again, especially in the middle part of the season. Really impressive for someone who looks like such a bruiser.
    I agree that he should feature prominently in the Union’s plans for next year, playing maybe 25% fewer minutes.

  2. Glad to see you point out his rather impressive touch on the ball which he doesn’t get enough credit for. I’d almost like to see what kind of player he would be if he lost about 20 lbs…almost. Besides his obvious strength, he was one of the only Union players that could consistently create opportunities on his own, break players down and make solid choices in the final third. If he’s not on the team, there’s no way Jack scores more than 5 goals this year. Clear offensive MVP of the team for me and right up there with Amobi and Zac for overall MVP.

  3. Casey was a great addition. He’s the guy this team has needed since its inaugural year. I agree with everyone’s comments about his skill on the ball. I only really watched him in a few USMNT games so this was a pleasant surprise.
    .
    It’s a shame Casey is already 32. Hopefully, the team will be smarter about his minutes and give Wheeler an expanded role to keep him fresh.

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