With 10 goals and five assists in 2013, the risky signing of Conor Casey turned into one of the biggest positives for the Philadelphia Union last year.
That hadn't been the case this season, with the veteran forward struggling through the spring before finally breaking out in a 3-0 win against Chivas USA Saturday night.
Casey's two-goal effort, a penalty kick and a diving header, ended a stretch of 13 appearances in which the forward had not contributed a goal or assist.
“First and foremost our team played better than we have in the last couple games," Casey said." (We were) just more organized, and the penalty kick, I wanted to take. Luckily (Maurice Edu) allowed me to do that, to kind of get this year kicked off since I hadn’t scored yet, so it was nice of him to let me do that and I was happy to be able to put it away. We came out in the second half and had a lot of the possession again and (Cristian Maidana) played a great ball in, put it on a platter for me and I was able to put it in from a couple yards out. Great ball from him, good movement and happy that I was in the right place.”
Casey's minutes had been down this year, especially with Philadelphia's tactical switch from the 4-4-2 to the 4-3-3. The trade of Jack McInerney brought Andrew Wenger to Philadelphia, and Casey had been in and out of the lineup that only featured one true striker.
Before the breakout in Southern California, he had started just three of 14 games and managed only six total shots.
“It’s fantastic for him, I’m so happy for him," manager John Hackworth said. "I’ve probably been a little tougher on him than I should have been. To be fair, he probably deserved a shot earlier in the season to have more minutes but we challenged him and he certainly answered those challenges for sure.”
Philadelphia still has not lost to Chivas USA since joining Major League Soccer.
The win ended a two-game losing streak in which the team conceded five goals to New England and four to the LA Galaxy. The three points on the road improved the Union to 4-7-5 overall and pushed the team into eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The Union is now just two points out of a playoff spot, but has also played more games than any other team in the East.
This Saturday's home match with Vancouver looks like a must-win match as the team heads into the World Cup break. Nine other teams with games-in-hand will play catch up throughout the summer.
“It’s been a tough week for us out here," Hackworth said. "It was a tough result last Sunday in the same building and for the players to respond during the week under some pretty good pressure and as a staff, we didn’t back down on (them) and they responded tonight. You got to work through these hard times and sometimes adversity makes you stronger and so it was a good response from our team tonight.”