Philadelphia Union's John Hackworth hopes injured Conor Casey is back soon: "We clearly miss Conor"

Conor Casey in PHIvDC

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USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth has spent the last few weeks trying to get the team’s offseason acquisitions on the same page as the returning core.

But there’s been one player missing from the integration: Conor Casey.

Fresh off a 10-goal season that made him a finalist for last year’s MLS Comeback Player of the Year award, Casey has been held out of training sessions and games this preseason with what Hackworth described as a “soft tissue injury.”

“We clearly miss Conor right now,” the Union manager told reporters during a conference call Thursday. “But our priority right now is to try to get him and the other guys who are banged up healthy.”

Hackworth noted that Michael Lahoud, Antoine Hoppenot and rookies Pedro Ribeiro and Richie Marquez are also nursing injuries, and that Sheanon Williams will undergo an MRI after going down early in Wednesday’s scoreless draw with Toronto FC.

But losing Casey might be the biggest blow for a team that leaned heavily on his offensive production last season. Returning to form after dealing with injuries for much of 2011 and 2012 – as well as very early in the 2013 campaign – Casey ended up logging 2,201 minutes and being a workhorse up front.

With the 32-year-old striker now dealing with yet another injury, might he have a more limited role this season?

“For me, that’s going to be based on his performances,” Hackworth said. “If Conor can play at the same level he played at last year, I would think he’s going to have a similar impact. At the same time, he’s a year older. He’s already carrying an injury right now. He hasn’t played in these preseason games. And that’s a concern.

“But we still think there’s a lot left in his tank. And our job is to try to get him healthy and see how effective he can be for our team.”

Hackworth said he’s “hopeful” that Casey will be ready for the Union’s March 8 opener in Portland (10:30 pm ET; Watch on MLS Live). But with Hackworth pointing out that 2013 leading scorer Jack McInerney has been “playing like a veteran,” he may choose to bring Casey along slowly – especially since it might be hard to fit both McInerney and Casey into the starting lineup if he goes with his favored 4-3-3 formation.

Either way, Hackworth is confident that when Casey does get healthy, he’ll immediately fit right in.

“Conor is a fantastic pro and also has qualities about him that, quite frankly, we don’t have on our team in other players,” Hackworth said. “He’s working hard to get healthy. When he’s ready, it will be an easy integration for him.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.