COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — It was only two weeks ago that Colorado Rapids leading scorer Conor Casey tore an Achilles tendon. It was a season-ending injury, but his replacement, Sanna Nyassi, has been doing pretty well ever since.
“It’s crazy. We lost our most prolific striker who time and time again has delivered for this club,” Rapids captain Pablo Mastroeni told MLSsoccer.com. “Conor’s injury provides someone else with an opportunity and it was [head coach Gary Smith’s] ability to assess the situation and give Sanna the chance and he has stolen it and run with it.”
Nyassi’s form had been stop-start all season, typically playing as a winger, sometimes starting games, sometimes not. When Smith started the Gambian as a withdrawn forward just behind Omar Cummings against the New York Red Bulls on July 20, Nyassi exploded for a hat trick in the 4-1 win.
He was at it again Friday night, working a great move with Cummings to score what ended up being the winning goal in a 2-1 triumph at Philadelphia, where the Union had been unbeaten in 2011. In between, he was also instrumental in setting up the Rapids’ first goal against New England, another scintillating move between him and Cummings that led to a penalty kick.
“It’s not easy for other teams to deal with guys like Omar and Sanna, who have been really good for us in the last few games,” Mastroeni said.
Cummings and Casey proved to be one of the most lethal strike forces in MLS last year with 29 goals between them en route to winning MLS Cup. Cummings and Nyassi are showing early signs that they can be similarly successful as a partnership, one completely different in style but still highly effective. Cummings has yet to score in the three games they have worked together, but he has provided the assists on all four of Nyassi’s goals.
Smith said Nyassi had taken his game “to another level.” He also asked for a little patience with Cummings, who has struggled to find the net this year with only two goals so far in the campaign.
“Sanna looks so lively at the minute,” Smith said. “It is a different role for Omar and there are flashes of very good play, but he is still getting used to that lone role.”
Whether it’s Cummings or Nyassi scoring, what Smith really likes is the partnership between the two.
“The pair of them are getting involved in moments that change the course of events,” he said. “Those moments are what everybody is striving for, those flashes of brilliance. I’d rather have those game-winning goals than stocking fillers when you are already 3-0 up.”
It’s early days in the blossoming relationship, and form is always temporary, but the Nyassi-Cummings combination has excited Rapids players and fans alike.
Smith has plenty of other striking options with Macoumba Kandji targeting his first game since MLS Cup this Friday at home against the Columbus Crew. Kandji’s return comes at an opportune time: Smith said Caleb Folan pulled a groin muscle in the Philadelphia game. Andre Akpan and Quincy Amarikwa remain healthy and ready to go as needed.