At least that was the case on Saturday during the Union’s opening game at the Disney Pro Soccer Classic against Orlando City SC, the first time Philadelphia’s marquee attacking signings lined up alongside each other this preseason.
Playing together in John Hackworth’s 4-4-2 ahead of a diamond midfield made up of Brian Carroll, Keon Daniel, Danny Cruz and Michael Farfan, Casey and Le Toux did their best to capture the thunder-and-lightning combination many expect to help Philly make a run at the postseason. But despite their best efforts, the duo struggled to connect on a regular basis, as Le Toux dropped deeper and deeper to find the ball and Casey often found his partner’s runs difficult to predict or pick out.
“It was a little disjointed at times,” the former Rapids striker admitted, speaking minutes after Hackworth acknowledged that there was still “a lot of work to do” before March 2.
Of course, not all the blame falls on the point men. Le Toux was quick to point out that both he and Casey are still learning their new teammate’s tendencies as well as each other’s, and Hackworth was clearly disappointed with his side’s build-up play, admonishing the Union’s tendency to force the ball into one-v-one situations when playing out of the back and on the wings.
“Look, I wasn’t as disappointed with them as I was with how we moved the ball and found them,” Hackworth, entering his first full season as Union manager, said. “We tried to play too many direct balls either into Conor or to put Sébastien through. That’s not really what we’ve been working on in training.”
With less than three weeks until Sporting KC travel to PPL Park on opening day, the Union are hopeful the connection between Casey and Le Toux will become stronger day by day, especially since their skillsets seem so well matched on the surface.
It’s worth remembering, though, that Le Toux didn’t play as a striker for most of 2012 – he conceded his instincts up top were a bit rusty following the Union’s 1-1 draw vs. Orlando – and Casey is still in the process of rediscovering his top form after a ruptured Achilles ended his 2011 season and an assortment of knocks led to a stop-start campaign last year.
In short, expecting a immediate bumper crop from either in front of goal is neither practical nor realistic.
“The more we play and the more time we get to practice together, the more we’ll connect on the field,” Le Toux said. “Defenders will have to pay attention to him. You can play into his feet, but he’s also very good sometimes going into space. It’s good for me to kind of be running off him or using him to get behind the defense. I’m going to work a lot with him and the midfielders to be on the same page timing wise for the ball through or into the feet.”
That’s all well and good assuming both make Hackworth's opening-day 11, a scenario which certainly isn’t close to guaranteed.
Jack McInerney (eight goals, three assists in 25 appearances) and Antoine Hoppenot (four goals, one assist in 25 appearances) are coming off more – or equally – productive seasons than both Casey or Le Toux.
McInerney, for his part, has made his aims public. The 20-year-old wants to start, and he and Hoppenot partnered to help turn the tide against Orlando in the final half-hour, failing to produce a goal but showing more noticeably more cohesion and understanding than their veteran counterparts.
“It’s made for some good competition, and that’s exactly what a coach wants to have,” Hackworth said. “He wants to have tough choices. He wants to have depth. … You might see all three of [Casey, Le Toux and McInerney] on the field at the same time at some point in the next couple games here.”