October 11, 2009
By Michael Lewis
CASEY DOESN'T STRIKE OUT
Rapids forward rises to the occasion
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras -- Just what were the odds of Conor Casey winding up as the scoring hero of the U.S.'s 3-2 victory over Honduras that clinched another World Cup berth Saturday?
A 100-1? 1,000-1? 10,000-1?
He hadn't started a qualifier or a really important game for the U.S. National Team.
Heck, he hadn't found the back of the net in previous 14 matches.
But there he was in the starting lineup at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano. After a relatively silent first half, the 28-year-old Casey scored two goals and set up the third as the Americans booked a spot in the World Cup for an unprecedented sixth consecutive time.
"It feels good. It feels good," Casey said. "It's been a long time with the injuries and what not. To be able just to have the opportunity to play with these guys this night and to seal up the World Cup slot. It's huge. It's real good."
Casey, listed at 6-1 and 170 lbs., although he looks much bigger, was a surprise starter over Jozy Altidore, who had a yellow card entering the match.
“Conor has played very well in Major League Soccer lately," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "His movement and ability to hold the ball and bring people into the game has been good. We just felt the fact that he’s been playing regularly and the quality that he brings would be important at the beginning of the game."
Of course, Casey wasn't about to turn down the opportunity.
He said he was "a little susprised, but definitely excited to get the start. We knew it was going to be a very tough game. Obviously they were playing to win and playing for the same thing as we were, With their crowd behind them. I thought we played well and really smart."
Casey's teammates realized his worth. He is a good friend of goalkeeper Tim Howard, who teased him about leaving his scoring for so late. He said Casey "decided not to show up for 60 minutes today and he thought he was going to put two goals in."
But seriously, folks.
"I'm happy for Conor," Howard said. "What you see is what you get. He's pretty vanilla ice cream. He works hard and he gets called for every single possible foul tonight. But when it counted, he was up there and he took his chances."
Standout midfielder Landon Donovan, who scored one goal and set up another, agreed.
"Conor was great," Donovan said. "Aside from the goals, he did a lot of things that don't show up on the stat sheet -- holding the ball, drawing fouls. Defended well at time and obviously the goals speak for themselves. The first goal he scored really helped us. At that time they were confident. The crowd was going and he made just a good, hard play to beat the goalie to the ball and get it in."
A highly touted player in U.S. Soccer, Casey had failed to realize his potential due to a series of injuries, which included ACL surgery on both knees.
Finally healthy this year, he has enjoyed a stellar season with the Colorado Rapids.
For Casey, it's about playing with confidence, which he has had through most of the season. Casey has connected 16 times in 22 appearances. He trails FC Dallas forward Jeff Cunningham (17 goals) for the league lead.
The key to Casey's resurgence? Confidence.
"I've showed this year in the league and obviously when you have a team like this. You're playing with the best players in the country and their football is where they're need to be," Casey said. "It makes the job for everyone easier and more enjoyable."