Montreal memories: Tony Cascio recalls his career highlight
The date was June 29, 2013 and the solitary MLS meeting of the season, involving Montreal Impact and the Colorado Rapids, was locked at 3-3. Eighty-nine of the 90 minutes had passed, and Tony Cascio had sat - like TV and stadium spectators-alike - gripped by the thrilling contest which was drawing to a close.
And then came the call. Cascio was to be thrown into the game as the final few flickers of life gasped for breath at the end of what had been a dramatic meeting of East against West. The Rapids player - currently on loan at the Houston Dynamo - replaced Edson Buddle, and initially saw little action as the match moved into five minutes of stoppage time.
With one final huff and puff, the Impact - top of the Eastern Conference and undefeated at home before the game - gave one last big push for the winner. Possession turned over when Chris Klute made a timely tackle on Davy Arnaud. It was now three against three, with Cascio and Deshorn Brown scampering downfield to make themselves available.
Seconds remained in the game, as Klute's attempted pass to Brown was blocked, only for the loose ball to fall to Cascio. He took one touch, and then let rip with his right foot and watched as the ball took a deflection and nestled in the bottom right hand corner. The last kick of the game, and a moment that Cascio will never forget.
"You couldn't write a better storyline," Cascio told me. "A sub coming on, we hadn't been scoring many goals - particularly away - and my season hadn't been going very well, and then I go and score the winner in a game like that.
"But it was all a team effort. That gave us the belief that we could compete with any team in MLS, and helped us go on a nine-game unbeaten run."
That was Cascio's only goal in 2013. He would go on to make just three more appearances for the Rapids, the last of which was at Chivas USA on August 11 when he was sent off early in the second half. Last year was a frustrating one for the 24-year-old, but it was a season that delivered his greatest experience in MLS.
"The goal at Montreal was probably the highest moment I've had as a player," he said. "I was just ecstatic. You always want to make an impact as a substitute, and I did that. The celebration, when we all gathered on the sideline (pictured above), was not planned, but showed how much it meant to the team at that moment."
For the Rapids, the win in Montreal ended a three-game losing streak and was the turning point in the 2013 season. The run which followed was a huge factor in them making a run for the playoffs and, although Cascio played a minor role from that point on, his season-defining strike cannot be underestimated. And, yet, it could have been so different ...
"There was a communication problem when we went to make the change," Cascio explained. "Initially they called up Danny Mwanga, but then it was sorted and I was subbed in. It was a team win, and I'm just glad me coming on helped."
Since leaving the Rapids, Cascio has again endured the highs and lows of professional sport. He featured in five of the Dynamo's opening seven games, starting four of them, before reporting discomfort in his right knee at the end of April and being sent for an MRI scan. The results showed that Cascio had torn the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and is most likely out for the rest of the season.
"They (surgeons) tell me it's a 6-9 month recovery," Cascio said. "I've told them that I want to make the quickest recovery ever, but I also know that it's a process and I've got to be patient.
"I'm three weeks out of surgery - the first time I've ever had surgery in my career - and have now taken the leg brace off and have started riding the exercise bike in the gym.
"In my mind I want to get back to the game as quick as possible, but it's not a career-ending injury, so I've got to wait it out and come back stronger."
And so, as the Rapids tackle the Impact on Saturday, spare a thought for the man who gave fans one of the lasting images of 2013. Get well soon, Tony, and thanks for the memory.