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Can Conor Casey boost U.S. strike force?
by Ridge Mahoney, June 5th, 2009 4PM

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Conor Casey had nothing to say on the subject when asked a few weeks ago if he'd heard from U.S. coach Bob Bradley about a recall.

"To be honest, I'm not thinking about that," said the bald, burly, bad-ass forward who ended a six-year stint in Germany last summer to sign with MLS. "I'm just trying to put together a good season."

The season so far is eight goals, tacked onto the 11 he scored last year, most of them in the last two months following the departure of Coach Fernando Clavjio, who was replaced by former assistant Gary Smith after Casey arrived in a trade with Toronto, which sat atop the league allocation rankings at the time of his return.

That byzantine path through the tunnels of American soccer has brought Casey, a native of Dover, N.H., back to the national team again. After an absence of three years, from 2005 to 2008, he played the last 15 minutes (replacing Jozy Altidore) last November in the final qualifier of the semifinal round, a 2-0 win at Dick's Sporting Goods Park not far from where he grew up in Denver.

In his nine appearances, dating back to a debut against Poland in October of 2004, he's yet to score a goal, but his size (6-foot-1, 190 pounds), strength and goalscoring form, albeit in MLS, would have probably merited a call at some point this year. A hamstring injury to Brian Ching merely speeded up the process.

Now, the question is: Will he be just another high-scoring MLS forward who can't hit the net often enough for the national team, a la Taylor Twellman, Jeff Cunningham or Edson Buddle, or turn into a reliable performer? During the past two seasons, questions arose about why a prolific MLS forward, Kenny Cooper, rarely heard the word from Bradley, and Revs fans and others around the country are convinced Twellman (99 goals in MLS, 30 caps and six goals for the U.S.) never got enough respect from Bradley and his predecessor, Bruce Arena.

Casey knows from his experience, both with the U.S. teams and his clubs, that each coach has his methods and preferences. "Yeah, to be fair, though, when I got here I was still coming back from injuries and I had some issues with that here as well," says Casey, who played just two games with Toronto before heading to Colorado in a trade. "Gary gave me a shot near the end of the season but I can't really fault Fernando for anything.

Smith seems resigned to losing Casey, as well as his forward partner, Omar Cummings of Jamaica, for some of the season. "What we've tried to do is get a relationship going between Conor and Omar and there's a distinct possibility that come the Gold Cup we could lose the pair of them for four or five games," says Smith. "We have to work ever so hard to have players come in to fill that void, but ultimately, the relationship they've formed and the goals that they've scored will determine a lot about our season. To lose both of them would be a big blow."

His knees - twice ravaged by ACL injuries, one of which he suffered playing at Qwest Field during the 2005 Gold Cup - often impaired Casey's movement and fluidity, but even when healthy, he had a tough time getting regular playing time in Germany. In his best season, he scored 14 goals in 30 games for Second Division Karlsruhe, after playing two seasons with fellow U.S. international Steve Cherundolo at Hannover on loan from Borussia Dortmund.

"I was over there for six years and probably for only two of them I was starting and getting 90 minutes most of the time," says Casey, who came to MLS from a small club near Frankfurt, FSV Mainz. "That's huge for a player so you can get into that rhythm and whatnot. Obviously, the training's great, but for a forward the game is to play 90 minutes, get chances and score goals. That's the only thing that's going to build your confidence."

Casey gained confidence, and notoriety at the 2000 Olympic Games, when the late Clive Charles, who was also Casey's coach at the University of Portland, often benched Landon Donovan to get Casey on the field, usually pairing him up top with Josh Wolff. Casey parlayed his Olympic play into a contract with powerful German club Borussia Dortmund; Donovan's banishment to backup status triggered a firestorm of criticism from fans, journalists, and quasi-fans masquerading as journalists.

A year later, Donovan left the Bayern Leverkusen reserves to join the San Jose Earthquakes, and since then has taken a second stab with Leverkusen and a much-ballyhooed loan move to Bayern Munich that lasted three months.

"He's a great player, there's no question about it," says Casey of Donovan, whom he might be playing with again, if not Saturday, over the next few months. "He dealt with the same thing; not getting minutes and not getting 90 minutes for a long time.

"It's not easy at those big clubs, there's a lot of good players and you have to wait for your chance, and when you get that chance hope that you do really, really well. I understand it, I went through it."

 



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