Commentary: Colorado's Casey clutch, as usual

Rapids striker makes his case for being top American striker

Colorado's Conor Casey

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – Sure, Landon Donovan may lay claim to the miraculous goal against Algeria. And Eric Wynalda will alwasy have the free kick against Switzerland.

But there is arguably no other American forward in recent memory who has scored more clutch goals for both club and country than Colorado Rapids striker Conor Casey.

Back on October 10, 2009, while playing for the United States, his brace in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, essentially guaranteed the USA’s qualification to the World Cup. A little over a year later, his 84th-minute goal against the Columbus Crew, also on the road, lifted the Rapids from the brink of playoff elimination and into the Eastern Conference Championship (Sat., Nov. 13, 9:30 pm ET, Fox Soccer Channel).

“Can’t say much more about Conor," Colorado goalkeeper Matt Pickens said after the match. "He scores good goals at the right time.”

New York Red Bulls forward Juan Pablo Angel has earned the label of top Designated Player in MLS history with double-digit goals over his four MLS seasons. While the Colombian had 45 goals in his first three MLS campaigns, Casey has registered 40 in his last three years, including 13 in the 2010 season.

On Saturday night, the 29-year-old was bottled up by Crew centerback Eric Brunner, who shadowed him everywhere on the field. But as with the best goal-scorers around the world, the Rapids ace needed just a few inches to make a difference. He got ahead of Bruner with just six minutes remaining, lunging at an Omar Cummings cross to flick home the all-important goal that evened the aggregate series.

“[Brunner] did a good job all game preventing my runs but I got a little toe on it and found the back of the net,” Casey told MLSsoccer.com. “We battled today. We stuck with it and got one late. It was an exciting game.”

Conor Casey scores late against Columbus

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The Rapids also entrusted Casey with the very first shot in the shootout, which he converted in front of the frenzied fans in Crew Stadium's now-famous Nordecke stand.

“We had one of our big-time goal scorers keep us in the series and we took care of business from there,” Colorado defender Drew Moor said.

While American soccer fans may still be mourning the fact that one of the USA’s purest goal scorers ever, Taylor Twellman, has stepped away from the game, Casey is continuing to make the case that he belongs in contention for their hearts.

He once captured our imagination by becoming the nation’s top scorer in college and making the move to Germany for six years. But serious injuries, a stoic personality and a subpar international career, have impacted Casey’s standing in the eyes of the fans and pundits. In fact, many observers have pigeonholed him as a classic target man who lacks the deft touch and clinical finish, a belief belied by his foot skills on Saturday. The touch for the goal against Columbus should be evidence enough.

In the year of Edson Buddle (LA Galaxy) and Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), it may be the emergence of a familiar name, who is already proven on the international level, that may turn into the best story in MLS. Especially if he and his striker partner, Cummings, can continue to be the difference-makers for his hometown Rapids in the Eastern Conference Championship against the San Jose Earthquakes.

“Omar and Conor have carried us this year,” Rapids captain Pablo Mastroeni said. “Those guys up front have been spectacular, especially at home. Hopefully we can ride them a little further into the final, but not looking past this tough opponent in San Jose.”