COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – In February, Colorado Rapids rookie forward Tony Cascio said he felt “kind of weird” training with the first team during their preseason trip to Hawaii. At the time, the then-21-year-old was hoping just to get a chance to establish himself.
Three months later, the first team couldn’t imagine what it would do without Cascio.
The 14th overall pick in January’s MLS SuperDraft, Cascio is making a strong case to be named MLS’ Rookie of the Year. On MLSsoccer.com’s monthly Rookie Rankings chart released last week, Cascio is ranked second – trailing only New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara – and the Gilbert, Ariz., native is making a strong push to be the top dog.
“Tony has done a tremendous job,” Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja said. “I’m very proud. He came and took the responsibility [of being a starter] with such a passion and desire and professionalism, and he looks like he’s been around so long with the team. At some point we ought to give him a break but at this point I say that the club and fans should be very proud.”
Cascio’s stats may not jump off the page – two goals and an assist in 13 games – but in a season where fellow strikers Conor Casey and Omar Cummings have missed significant time because of injury, Cascio has proved to be a more-than-capable striker. The University of Connecticut product has provided energy, pace and a deceptively powerful shot atop Pareja’s 4-3-3 while proving himself to be a constant threat on goal. The 22-year-old is a big reason why the Rapids rank fifth in MLS with 20 goals so far this season.
“It’s been on my mind a little bit,” Cascio told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “I check up on it. One of my goals was to [play well] this season. I’m trying to achieve.”
Perhaps the most impressive and overlooked component to the rookie’s game has been his ability to frequently adjust in his first season of professional soccer. Just months removed from college ball, Cascio has not only had to adapt to MLS, but to a 4-3-3 attack that has switched back to a 4-4-2, then back to a 4-3-3 again as the Rapids work through a slew of injuries.
Cascio has labeled the tactical transitions as “difficult” in the past, but has also said he’s felt more comfortable as the season has gone on.
“I just go out on the field and do what I can do, control what I can control,” he said. “It’s a little difficult, but it’s still soccer.”
Teammates have noticed the light-hearted forward’s star-studded start to his MLS career and are hoping that come November, Cascio becomes the Rapids’ first-ever MLS Rookie of the Year.
“I think he’s surprised himself,” said midfielder Jeff Larentowicz. “He’s the type of guy that doesn’t try to think too much about the game. I think he just likes to go out and play. He’s got a lot of natural ability.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.