Hackworth: Union didn't choose Casey to be "a role player"

Union manager opens up about club's latest move

John Hackworth knows a lot of questions will be asked about the health of Conor Casey, the 31-year-old forward the Philadelphia Union picked up in Stage 2 of the Re-Entry Draft on Friday.

But the Union manager is confident that the longtime MLS standout is poised to have a bounceback year in Philadelphia after struggling with injuries, most notably a torn Achilles’ tendon, during the past two seasons in Colorado.

“Look, we’ve done our homework inside and out,” Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Friday, shortly after making the selection. “We talked to all of the trainers, all of the doctors. And he’s fit, he’s healthy and he gets a little bit of a fresh start with a team that needs the quality that he brings.”

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Specifically, that quality is size and strength around the net, which is something the low-scoring Union very much lacked last season. And it’s the main reason why Hackworth decided to try to make a play at the striker “the minute he got waived by Colorado” last month.

“He fits our immediate needs in a big way,” Hackworth said. “He’s a goalscorer, he’s got size, he’s really good technically and he’s a good soccer player. His feet are good. He fits our style. The thing we didn’t have last year is a forward with some size and he’s 6-foot-1 and plays a lot bigger than that.”

Casey, the Rapids’ all-time leading goalscorer with 50 goals in six seasons, joins a striking corps that includes another recent acquisition in Sébastien Le Toux, as well as youngsters Jack McInerney, Antoine Hoppenot and Chandler Hoffman.

Hackworth indicated Casey would compete for a starting spot right way and that the depth his arrival creates will be a big boost for a team that scored just 37 goals in 34 games last year.

“We wouldn’t have chosen him if we just thought he was going to be a role player,” Hackworth said. “I would say now, much like we have at the center back position, we have legitimately tough decisions to make and we can play different ways with different personnel. All of those things are very important when you’re tactically trying to select players against an opponent and weigh the pros and cons of how a team plays and try to take advantage of that.”

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When healthy, Casey has shown to be a terrific player. In 2010, he led the Rapids to a championship and was named MLS Cup MVP. Previously, he played overseas and also helped the United States national team qualify for the 2010 World Cup.

Hackworth, who coached Casey on the national team, believes that kind of experience will be invaluable for a team that last season, aside from Brian Carroll, had hardly any proven MLS veterans on the roster.

“His experience and leadership qualities are important,” Hackworth said. “Now I think we have a better balance in the locker room of veterans and champions. It’s not lost on me that he led his team to an MLS Cup two years ago. That’s really, really important.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.