COMMERCE CITY CO (MLSnet.com and Rapids reports) - Conor Casey was supposed to be in Utah with the U.S. national team for their World Cup qualifier against El Salvador on Saturday night.
Instead he was in more familiar surroundings at Dick's Sporting Goods Park and it was his bullet header in the 51st minute that gave the Colorado Rapids a vital victory in their playoff push.
to watch free video highlights of Casey's gamewinner.
Earlier the burly striker had missed a first-half penalty kick but he redeemed himself with a powerful header that sealed the victory tonight for Colorado over Toronto.
Casey had been selected by US National Team head coach Bob Bradley to join the U.S. side but a painful recovery from surgery to remove his wisdom teeth earlier in the week meant he didn't make the trip to Rio Tinto Stadium.
For a team decimated by injuries and suspension Casey's presence in the Rapids' starting lineup was a welcome sight for both teammates and fans. He repaid them all not only with the header but with his usual combative and reliable performance penalty miss excepted. A perfect first-time cross from Jacob Peterson found the striker's head and Casey buried it past Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
The goal broke the deadlock in a game that rarely sprung to life in the first half. Toronto were largely unable to provide much of an attacking threat though Dwayne De Rosario was a handful whether out wide left or right and occasionally popping up more in the middle. Likewise despite a few chances the Rapids' forwards were somewhat held in check by strong central defense from Toronto.
Toronto finished the game with just nine men after midfielder Amadou Sanyang and defender Adrian Serioux were both sent off late in the second half.
Mehdi Ballouchy came close to finding the net in the opening five minutes when he side-footed a ball from just inside the top of the box forcing a good save from Frei. Ballouchy himself had started the move. Peterson managed a deflected shot off a good chance in the 23rd minute which led to the corner kick that set up Casey's penalty kick attempt after a handball offense.
Unfortunately for the Rapids and Casey the striker banged the penalty kick against the crossbar.
The second half contained more drama. There were more chances for the Rapids and Toronto barely threatened with the Reds' attack slowing to a halt with the ejections of Sanyang in the 76th minute and Serioux in the 85th.
The game saw a Rapids debut for new addition Drew Moor acquired earlier in the week from FC Dallas in defense who started the match. Defender Mike Holody also made his Rapids and MLS debut coming on as a substitute in the second half for Pat Noonan.
The Rapids took the field without suspended captain Pablo Mastroeni. They were also missing midfielder Jamie Smith as well as Cory Gibbs and Scott Palguta regulars in central defense. Their injuries came on top of the long-term injury of Colin Clark out for the rest of the season.
The win the second straight 1-0 home victory for the Rapids after last weekend's morale-boosting three points against Houston makes a postseason spot for Colorado ever more likely.
The same two teams will face each other again in Toronto next weekend in the second game of this home-and-away series.
Nick Thomas is a contributor to MLSnet.com.
AT&T Rapids Man of the Match: Conor Casey
COL- Casey (Peterson Cummings) 51
Toronto FC: Stefan Frei Nana Attakora Jim Brennan Nick Garcia (Adrian Serioux 46) Emmanuel Gomez (Ali Gerba 56) Marvell Wynne Amadou Sanyang Pablo Vitti (Danny Dichio 70) Sam Cronin Chad Barrett Dwayne De Rosario
Substitutes Not Used: Brian Edwards Lesly Fellinga O'Brian White
Colorado Rapids: Matt Pickens Kosuke Kimura Julien Baudet Drew Moor Jordan Harvey Pat Noonan (Michael Holody 74) Mehdi Ballouchy Nick LaBrocca Jacob Peterson Conor Casey Omar Cummings
Substitutes Not Used: Preston Burpo Greg Dalby Facundo Diz Ty Harden Ross Schunk Rob Valentino
TOR- Sanyang (caution; Reckless Foul) 21
TOR- Sanyang (ejection; Second Caution) 76
COL- Holody (caution; Delaying a Restart) 84
TOR- Serioux (ejection; Serious Foul Play) 84
Referee: Terry Vaughn
Referee's Assistants: Chris Strickland; David Bragg
Fourth Official: Ben Chouaf