Before Sunday’s match at FC Dallas, Colorado Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja had only planned to give star striker Conor Casey about 30 minutes of playing time to help the big striker get back in shape following a nine-month injury layoff.
But after feeling a sense of urgency to capitalize on an 11-on-9 situation following two FC Dallas red cards in the first half, Pareja sent Casey out for the entire second half. Casey responded with a spirited effort, frequently finding himself on the ball and helping create numerous chances during a second-half offensive onslaught for the Rapids that eventually produced all three points.
“Conor brings something distinct to the team and is the most natural center striker we have,” said Pareja, whose team scored twice during the second half of a 2-0 win over FCD. “He’s smart and creates danger, so he brings interesting things to the team.”
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Casey filled the point striker role that former partner Omar Cummings, who was forced to leave early in the first half of Sunday’s win with a left ankle sprain, has been occupying this season. But despite a lack of fitness after returning just eight days prior, Casey said afterward that he felt fine, even playing more than he had anticipated.
“I felt good, felt really good,” Casey told MLSsoccer.com Sunday night. “It’s nice to come in a game like that when you’re up a couple men. I feel a little winded, but it’s not too bad.”
After Sunday’s positive debut, Casey could be in line for his first start of the season when the Rapids take on D.C. United on May 16. Pareja told MLSsoccer.com that he will evaluate Casey’s conditioning this week to determine whether or not he is ready to start.
But for now, the Rapids’ all-time leading goalscorer is ready to enjoy the club's 10-day layoff and the three big points that came with Sunday’s win.
“That’s a huge opportunity you can’t let go by. Everybody knew the scenario and that we needed [the win],” Casey said. “We caught a break, but we also took advantage.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.