Rookie Report: Cascio avoids typical first year in Colorado

Tony Cascio celebrates goal

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Just keep shooting, Tony.

As the 2012 MLS season nears its midpoint, Colorado Rapids rookie Tony Cascio is among the league leaders in shots and minutes played.

Through 17 games, Cascio has two goals and two assists, leads all rookies in shots (36) and to date is the only first-year field player to accumulate more than 1,000 minutes of action (RBNY goalkeeper Ryan Meara leads all rookies).

“He’s got a fantastic shot,” said veteran defender Drew Moor, who is Cascio’s roommate on the road. “Oscar [Pareja, Rapids head coach] and some of us older guys encourage him to shoot. If you’re in range, test the goalkeeper. He hits a ball as hard as anyone in the league.”

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As Cascio’s shots spray in from all angles, those who have followed the Rapids’ season can attest that the winger is indeed listening to his elders. The 6-foot rookie, who has also started a few games up top for Pareja, creates chances with his electric speed, flair and ability to score with both feet.

“Not too many rookies have had the impact he’s had the first half of the season,” Moor said. “He started on opening day, and scored a goal in his second game against Philadelphia. You just can’t take someone out of the lineup when they’re playing as well as him, no matter how old they are.”

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Despite the injury bug that Mile High forwards have endured over the past few months, Cascio’s form made it an easy decision for Pareja to pencil the 22-year-old into the wing of his 4-3-3 system, and even up front in a traditional 4-4-2.

“Like anyone, I just love scoring goals,” said Cascio, who accumulated 24 goals and 25 assists in 85 games at Connecticut. “I’ve always played different positions. Ray [Reid, UConn head coach] started me at forward a bit, too.”

Obviously, Cascio has enjoyed his time on the wing for the Rapids, but the question now becomes whether or not his run in the team will end as veterans Omar Cummings, Conor Casey and Jamie Smith get back into the swing of things, presenting Pareja with numerous options in attack.

While Cascio hasn’t started in any of the past three games – he came on to provide a delicate chipped assist for Smith after a defense-splitting run down the left in Colorado’s 3-0 drubbing of Portland over the weekend and played half an hour on Wednesday vs. Vancouver – Pareja insists he just wanted to give Cascio a break at a time when rookies historically run out of gas.

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“I decided it would be good for him to have that break and refresh,” said Pareja, who himself enjoyed an eight-year MLS career. “It can be difficult for young players to be consistent, but for Tony that’s not been the case. He’s had a lot of responsibility this year and now that guys are coming back, I actually think that will help him.

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“Tony becomes another option either starting or coming off the bench. His game has a lot of personality and that is what we look for in a young player.”

Rookies are supposed to play in reserve games, stay quiet in team meetings and learn by watching others as they transition to the professional game. In contrast, Cascio has only played once with the reserves, back in early April. And though he runs in the first-team circle, he is receptive to instruction unlike some rookies who let ego cloud their judgment after being catered to as college stars.

Like any MLS rookie, Cascio humps the equipment after training and cleans up the weight room after workouts, but he has also become a locker room favorite thanks to his outgoing character and unique wardrobe choices. Cummings says he’s never seen anyone wear more plaid and stripes in his life, while Moor – the resident clubhouse personality – mentioned his outfits cause double-takes at least three times a week.

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“Tony’s a great kid,” Moor said. “In the first couple weeks, he impressed people with his play. Not only that, but he’s a goofball in the locker room. Everybody loves being around him.”

Cascio has always found it pretty easy to get along with teammates. In high school, he was not only a standout on the soccer team, but also the place kicker on a state-champion football team. Though his teammates never gave him a hard time about his dedication to what the world calls football, they did razz him about being a kicker — until he nailed a 49-yard point-after attempt.

SAVE: Hartman parries Cascio blast

With Moor in his corner, Cascio said he’s had no problem fitting in with the Rapids and finding room to grow in his first formative season.  

“You take a little bit from everyone because each player has something to offer and you make it your own,” Cascio said. “Drew is awesome – he’s such a character. You might not think so, but we get along real well on road trips. He’s real funny and immature like me, so we just kind of mess around. A lot of guys have been making fun of me lately, telling me I haven’t had the typical rookie year yet.”

In the second game of the season, when Cascio scored his first MLS goal by stripping Union defender Chris Albright near midfield before waltzing on goal and blasting a shot inside the near post, his own coach didn’t even recognize the milestone. The Gilbert, Ariz., native has been such a big influence in his short time at the club that Pareja forgot Cascio was only playing his second competitive match.

“After the game, they told me it was his first MLS goal,” Pareja said. “He scored in preseason and friendlies, and in the opener he was a threat. I’d already seen him score so many times, I didn’t even notice. That’s one of the reasons he’s played from the beginning.”