Friday, July 25, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Toss a ball, watch him bounce back

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IF EVER there were a study in athletic resilience, sturdy Philadelphia Union forward Conor Casey is it. A soccer wunderkind who tore through the college ranks and went to Sydney with the U.S. Olympic team as a 19-year-old, Casey played professionally in the German Bundesliga and found measures of success, but he tore the ACLs in both knees . . . then rebounded to lead his hometown MLS club, the Colorado Rapids, to an MLS title in 2010.

The year before, he had helped the United States qualify for the 2010 World Cup by scoring two goals in the clinching qualifier game in 2009. He was then left off the World Cup team.

And, in 2011, he ruptured his Achilles tendon.

That injury helped speed Casey's exit from Colorado, which landed him in Philadelphia . . . where, after scoring 10 goals (second on the team) in 2013, he played much less in the first 10 games of this season. The Union went 2-7-1. Casey, a 32-year-old power forward (he's 6-2 and 200 pounds) with a deceptive gift for scoring, got just three starts.

So, he waited. Reinserted into the starting lineup for the last two games before the league's break for the World Cup, Casey scored two goals in each. The Union won one game and earned a draw in the other.

The MLS break ends today for the team as they visit New England under interim manager Jim Curtin (manager John Hackworth was fired June 10) and try to sneak into the playoff picture. Earlier this week, Marcus Hayes caught up with Casey, who has enjoyed watching this World Cup a little bit more than the last one.

Q Having scored two goals in the 3-2 qualification clincher over Honduras as an emergency replacement, then being left off the team, it must have been tough to watch the tournament four years ago.

That was definitely difficult, having been there for qualifiers, and not to even be in consideration. It was hard at the time. But I know coaches have guys they like and others they don't like or don't know. A lot of it comes down to the coaches' preference.

Q So, is this one any easier to watch?

Oh, I watched last time. But this time - yeah. It's not hard to watch at all. Who doesn't get revved up for the World Cup? Besides, one of my real good friends, Kyle Beckerman, is on the team and contributing.

Q Beckerman briefly was a teammate of yours when you played for Colorado, where you set the team's goals record at 50 while winning an MLS title in 2010. You ruptured your Achilles tendon in 2011. In 2012, they released you. Did that especially sting?

Sure. I'd spent six years there, and I'd had the backing of the team the whole time. Eventually, they just had people in the organization who wanted to go a different way. At the time, actually, I wasn't all that sad to go. We had won the championship. I'd had some great years. But I'm thankful I got out when I did.

Q The Union selected you in the dispersal draft in 2012, but you spent a lot of time on the bench this season until the last two MLS games. Did your experiences with injury, and with sitting out in other leagues, help you endure the first half of this season?

Every player wants to play. I was working hard. Showing myself well in training, I thought. I just wasn't getting the minutes.

I just had to be ready for the next opportunity. That's being a professional . . . It's obviously very difficult when

you're injured, sitting on the sidelines. But going through that process, each time, it makes you harder.

Q You've had wonderful moments, but soccer in America never gets bigger than in its international moments. What was better: Playing in the Olympics or scoring twice on Honduras in the qualifier?

They were both great moments. As a forward, you always judge yourself on the goals you score. But when it comes to the whole experience - winning, getting to the semifinals, being on a real team - I'd have to say the Olympics. [In 2009], I was never really a part of that national team.

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