For the second straight match, Conor Casey left an imprint on the Philadelphia Union offense and this has to have Manager John Hackworth thinking in new ways about the make-up of his team and how others like Sebastian Le Toux fit into the scheme of things.
On Saturday evening in Columbus, in Casey’s first start, the wiley veteran forward appeared to flick a ball ahead to Danny Cruz with his noggin, sending his mate in on net in what turned-out to be a 3-on-none break. A nice pass to Jack McInerney resulted in what will probably be about the easiest goal the rising star will ever score. But Casey’s subtle involvement was important on that play, just as it was more obvious through most of the time he spent on the pitch. Casey, once one of the more feared goal-scoring threats in the MLS with Colorado, still seems to be one of the most able and thoughtful offensive players the Union have thrown out there so far. Two games ago in New York, it was Casey’s late substitution that almost immediately resulted in a goal as the forward again used his head, snapping-in the Union’s only goal off a beauty of a throw-in by Sheanon Williams.
Even when a Casey drive fizzles, it’s often someone else’s mistake or misfortune that turns the ball over. Most of the time, it seems Casey is out there cooking-up something positive and getting himself into good position.
To be honest, when the Union signed the former Rapids star in the off-season, I thought of it mainly as a complimemtary pick-up; he was a nice veteran pressence for the locker room and a guy who might be able to help guide the younger players. But who knew how effective Casey could still be? After all, there were a lot of miles on that 31-year-old frame and he was coming into this season two years removed from his last big year as a goal scorer.
Some of those questions are still legitimate. The primary reason Casey did not start until this past weekend was because he was not 100-percent healthy. But with his legs beneath him now, Casey looks like anything but a fading star. He’s still smart, appears hungry and spirited and seems to have a sense of how to advance the ball and make himself troublesome around the net.
Hackworth probably did well to sub for Casey late in Saturday’s contest. The forward is worth protecting and the full 90-minutes gets to be a much tougher proposition the more the years go by. Plus, the Union was in the position to bring-in Le Toux and super-sub Antoine Hoppenot, which isn’t a bad combo-option when you’re looking to step on the gas in the late minutes. In fact, Hoppenot nearly gave the Union a victory with a blast that was barely saved by the fingertips of Crew goal keeper Andy Gruenebaum.
If Casey is to be the new go-to starter for the Union, however, one is left to wonder how far out of the picture this leaves Le Toux, another veteran with a not so distant history of scoring lots of goals for the home side. If they ever get around to calling penalty kicks in this league again, who better than Le Toux to set up for them? And as I’ve mentioned in other recent blogs, Le Toux has been about the most effective player the Union has tried at corner kicks this season. Hackworth commented after Saturday’s 1-1 draw that it was great bringing a guy like Sebastian in off the bench for some last-minute punch. But if that’s to be the new role, over time, how will Le Toux respond?
The question may answer itself, either when the starter’s job catches-up to Casey and Le Toux has to start again because of an injury, or if Le Toux ends-up taking advantage of his more limited time by coming through with a goal or an assist or two on fresh legs. In that case, manager Hackworth will have a very tough choice to make.
Of course, any manager would love to have that kind of problem.
The Union’s next match is this Saturday at home against Toronto (4 p.m., 6abc). I’ll preview that one later in the week.