A View from Afar / Commentary

Conor Casey rages against the dying of the light

Photo: Earl Gardner

One of the greatest collections of English words ever conceived was written in 1947 in Florence, Italy, by a Welshman named Dylan Thomas.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

So begins the classic poem, Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night, speaking of the eternal battle between life and death, the constant quest to turn back the persistent tide of age, and the wistfulness for the past that comes when facing down the end. Do not give in, the narrator urges. Do not give up.

We too often surrender to the notion that an aspect of life ends at a certain predefined point. For most, our childhood dreams should fade with the entrance into a pragmatic adulthood, or so we are told and so it is expected. You grow up, you start a career, you marry and have kids, you buy a house, you settle down, and that is life. By 65, it’s time to retire because your time has passed. Everything after that is a bonus. By 80, you’re counting days, months and years till the end. Life is a young man’s game.

In sports, it is similar. You break into the game at a certain age. By your late teens, you have demonstrated whether you have professional potential. By your early 20s, you have broken into the pro game. At 26 to 28, you reach your prime. By 33, you are in physical decline. By 40, you should have already retired a few years ago. In international soccer, the benchmarks come a little earlier than in other major American sports.

These are the rules of expectation. The aging process continues. Physical decline begins eventually.

But life doesn’t always cooperate with expectations.

There is more to a human being than merely a set of physical traits. Intelligence, creativity and resolve cannot be measured so easily on the field of athletic competition.

So we have times like Saturday, when a 34-year-old striker named Conor Casey illustrates the counterpoint.

Two beautiful goals, the second remarkable in its subtlety, struck shortly after entering the game for Philadelphia Union. The match is won, in grand style.

But he’s washed up, the critics tell us. His time has passed.

Perhaps they should tell him. His performance disagrees.

Or take Brian Carroll, whose consistently solid play this season has required his critics to step back, reassess, and in some cases even publicly apologize. They were wrong. Perhaps the game has tactically evolved in a way that often marginalizes Carroll’s skill set, but his ability remains, as does his wherewithal to adapt to changing circumstances.

Carroll and Casey are 34 years old, born just five days apart in July 1981.

Age can be tricky. It sneaks up on you.Β  Sometimes you’re the last one to recognize your prime has passed, particularly in sports.

But likewise, that may be because you believe you have more in reserve. You believe there is something left. Or you believe that you can compensate for the physical decline by adjusting your approach and using your smarts. You refuse to surrender to the onset of age. And you fight on till you can’t anymore, because once you give in, you don’t get to change your mind later. This is the nature of life.

Whether Casey’s performance heralds a sequence of games like he has produced the last two seasons, one doesn’t know. We’ll have to wait and see. When healthy, he remains a potentially dominant center forward for stretches, unparalleled in MLS in his ability to put a ball in a net with his head, technically capable on the ball, with rare passing vision for a target forward in his league. He is not fast, but then he never was all that quick to begin with.

The question, of course, is whether he can remain healthy for long enough periods to stay fit and capable of contributing to his club over longer stretches. It’s a fair question. Much like recent seasons, this year has been pockmarked by injury. With the arrivals of C.J. Sapong and Fernando Aristeguieta this year, Casey has not had a clear path back to the lineup after injuries like he did in the past.

But to watch Casey’s performance Saturday, one must offer appreciation. Step back and simply enjoy it. The man still has something special. It’s enough to inspire a similarly fierce resistance in everyone.

The end calls for all of us sooner or later. But don’t let age bias your view. It’s not the number that matters. It’s what you do that counts. Like the best of us, Conor Casey will not go gentle into that good night.

27 Comments

  1. He’s a backup and came into the game late and put in a great performance. Wonderful. You look for that kind of things from your backups once or twice a season. Good teams have backups capable of that.

    Let’s not go building any statues to him.

    Then again I don’t blame anyone for getting carried away. We aren’t used to having non shit players on the bench.

  2. Here’s hoping Casey gets a runout in the next couple games, if only so Scott and the other parents of youngsters have to explain the “Hey Casey” chant to their kids.

  3. My favorite words uttered by a Welshman come from Roger Water’s, Radio K.A.O.S.
    .
    “Hello, I’m Billy.”
    “Yes?”
    “I hear Radio Waves in my Head.”
    .
    Likely only someone hanging on to their youth would remember such a remarkable album.
    .
    As always Dan….good article.

  4. The old adage in boxing is that a fighter’s punching power is the last thing to go. The older fighter can’t get off many punches and can’t avoid being hit, but given the opportunity can still deliver a knockout blow.

    You can say the same for Connor Casey. The man is a professional finisher. When given the chance, he can still finish.

  5. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Dan Walsh: well done and eloquently said; not just an excellent citation, a congruent one. My Sixty-six year old plumbing is in imminent danger of springing a light leak.
    .

    I trust you have sent Mr. Casey a copy, as he deserves to know what the several of us think.

  6. When healthy, Casey still has the skill and goal-scoring ability to be an asset to this team. Obviously, the problem is that he’s rarely healthy anymore. Him and Nando being injured for long stretches of the season have cost this team points. While you can’t fault the players for being injured, at some point it’s best to cut bait.

    • With Casey needed only as a 3rd option (along with a 4th striker option in LeToux), his unique skill set makes him worth carrying even if only for spot duty.

  7. Great article. Another player comes to mind too….Paolo Maldini, was 38 still playing in Serie A.

  8. Larry Guengerich says:

    Agree as long as those chances are with his bald dome. In Lancaster the other week he missed several at his feet including one that was less than a yard in front of goal. Not that I am complaining he scored when it counted, mind you, I just wish he could use his feet too πŸ™‚

    • His other goal this year was very well taken with his feet (against tfc, mid july). He is quite obviously better with his head, but don’t downplay his touch. He just rarely generates the space needed to shoot from his feet. Much better as a target distributor off the bench, laying the ball wide and getting on the end of crosses.

  9. Love watching Casey scrap and fight every time he gets on the field. Defenders must still hate lining up against him. What a satisfying win he delivered on Saturday.

  10. OneManWolfpack says:

    Fantastic article – well done (sfw link) http://media2.giphy.com/media/b9aScKLxdv0Y0/giphy.gif

  11. One thing that’s true of Casey regardless of his age: He has the best finishing instincts on this team.

  12. …..losing that first step, lateral quickness, and pace is sooooo damn depressing!!!!!!

  13. Old age and treachery beat youth and enthusiasm once again1

  14. Great piece Dan. It’s amazing the difference in my already sub-optimal playing abilities in my pre vs. post 35 year old body. The recovery time alone took a dramatic jump up. I don’t know how these older guys do it with all the travel, daily practices and sometimes two games a week. I imagine lots of ice and ibuprofen.

  15. Dan…you must have some long ass arms!!! All the way from “afar” you still have your fingers on the pulse of the U and your readers! As I go into my 51st year I still find ways to access my inner teenager….but boy it hurts the next few days!!!
    Thanks for the read….and to CC. For being the player he is!!

  16. Thanks for the nice comments, everyone. I had inspiration this week.

  17. Casey is the type of guy I want on my team. Reminds me of Danny Califf. Consummate professional. He put the Union on his back last week and carried us to victory. Saved the friggin’ season!

    • Interesting to note: Casey and Califf are friends from (if I recall correctly) their USMNT days, and Califf recommended Casey to the Union before they acquired him.

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