There was a time when Philadelphia Union striker Conor Casey was very worried about his soccer career.
After tearing his Achilles tendon midway through the 2011 season, Casey struggled to return to form in 2012 and was soon able to see the “writing on the wall” that he wouldn’t be returning to the Colorado Rapids, the team he led to an MLS Cup in 2010.
It was at that point when the injury-plagued striker wasn’t sure if he’d ever become the dynamic player who scored 50 goals in Colorado – or even play at all.
“It’s hard to know,” Casey told MLSsoccer.com by phone this week. “There were a lot of frustrations. I came back and was somewhat healthy and I played some games at the end of the season last year but I never really felt back to fitness. In the back of your head, you always wonder given the injuries, if you can get back to playing and get to the point where you’re not thinking about your body and you’re just concentrating on soccer.”
Those questions have since been answered.
After Philly took a chance on him in the Re-Entry Draft last offseason, Casey rewarded the Union’s faith with one of his best seasons in MLS, finishing with 10 goals and five assists in 2,201 minutes – totals that were all higher than his combined output in 2011 and 2012. For that, he was named a finalist for the 2013 MLS Comeback Player of the Year, an award that went to New England’s Kevin Alston earlier this week.
“I had played last year for a good portion of the season so it was a little funny,” Casey said of the award. “But it’s obviously great to be nominated for anything. Being healthy all year was awesome and something I hadn’t had in a few years.”
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For Casey, perhaps the only thing more surprising than being up for Comeback Player of the Year was how much he played this year. The only season he ever logged more than the 2,201 minutes he played in 2013 was during his championship-winning campaign in 2010.
“At the beginning of the year, I don’t think I could have seen myself playing that many minutes,” he said. “But at the same time, I think when you get older you need those minutes to stay fit and healthy.”
For those fitness reasons, Casey said he hopes to keep playing as many minutes next season in what will be the final year in his contract with Philly. And after resurrecting his career in 2013, the 32-year-old forward hopes even better days are ahead – both in 2014 and beyond.
“I think, at this point, every year is big,” Casey said. “I have limited years left, and I want to make the most of them. Every year I can perform well will give me a chance to play another year.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.