The Philadelphia Union used the second stage of Major League Soccer’s Re-Entry Draft to acquire the rights to Colorado Rapids forward Conor Casey. A 6-foot-1 bruiser, Casey is a goal-scorer with the kind of size the Union have sorely lacked in recent times. He has plenty of pedigree, too, having earned 20 U.S. national team caps over the course of his career.
"Conor is that big body we need here on attack, and I believe he still has a lot to prove," Union manager John Hackworth said in a statement. "He has proven that he can be one of the best forwards in this league and for the national team. Our staff believes that Conor still has many goals left in him."
I don’t doubt Hackworth in the least. As I said above, Casey clearly has the physical attributes and the career pedigree to make a serious impact for the Union.
But he comes to Philadelphia with two major caveats that will likely stir familiar echoes for local sports fans: he has to stay healthy and he has to take a pay cut from recent years.
If those two things happen, the Union will have landed a major boost to their offense. Until then, you all need to know Casey’s history before getting too excited about his arrival.
Casey won MVP honors at the 2010 MLS Cup, and scored the first of two Colorado goals in a 2-1 win. He is also the all-time leading scorer in Rapids history, which is no small feat for one of MLS’ original clubs.
But after scoring at least 10 goals each season from 2008 through 2010, Casey’s career came to a crashing halt midway through the 2011 campaign. He suffered a torn Achilles tendon in mid-July of that year, ending his season.
Casey returned to the field early in 2012, but only managed to score two goals in 18 appearances. Injuries dogged him again in the latter half of this year, and he missed seven of the Rapids’ last 14 games.
Prior to his time in MLS, Casey suffered a torn ACL playing for the U.S. national team in the 2005 Gold Cup.
"We wouldn't have chosen him if we just thought he was going to be a role player," Hackworth said. "We've done our homework inside and out. We talked to all the trainers, all the doctors, and he's fit, he’s healthy."
The other major factor in the Union’s selection of Casey is his salary. He earned $400,000 this past season, one of the highest salaries in MLS for a non-Designated Player.
Technically, Casey’s salary was over the threshold for DP status, but the cap hit was paid down with allocation money. Only three other players held that status: Juan Pablo Ángel, Dwayne De Rosario and Benny Feilhaber.
That said, the Union are able now to negotiate a lower salary for Casey – and surely will. The mechanism of the Re-Entry Draft allows teams which select players in the second stage of the process to offer a lower salary to those players.
The Union have seven days to make Casey a contract offer. If no agreement is reached, the Union keep the right of first refusal to Casey should he stay in MLS.
All of the players in the Re-Entry Draft pool who were not selected are now free agents. Among those players are Rapids defender Tyson Wahl and D.C. United defender Mike Chabala. Both have experience at left back, a position where the Union could use some help.
(Among the players now off the board is former Union captain Danny Califf. He was the first overall selection in the second stage of the Re-Entry Draft by Toronto FC.)
I mentioned above that Casey’s arrival with the Union reminds me of another recent acquisition on the Philadelphia sports landscape. Casey doesn’t bring as much fanfare, but he has size at a key position and a history of being paid well.
I suspect you’ve figured out what I’m referring to. Yes, it’s 76ers center Andrew Bynum. To be sure, Casey comes with far less fanfare and far fewer expectations. He is also, from everything I’ve heard, a fine person. I doubt anyone will catch him at a bowling alley when he shouldn’t be.
But I just can’t help thinking of the similarities between the two men and their potential. The burden of proof is on the Union to show that they have made the better move.