The Push: Player perspective into what it takes to be a contender in the postseason
It’s almost a carbon copy of a season for Conor Casey.
And the Union forward is hoping it ends the same way it did three seasons earlier.
In 2010, when he led Colorado to an MLS Cup title, the month or so leading up to that moment was as arduous as the path Casey is undergoing here in Philadelphia.
With theregular season drawing to a close, the Rapids eked into the playoffs that behind 46 points (12-8-10 MLS record) and qualified as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
And no that’s not a typo…the Eastern Conference.
Mind you, this was before Major League Soccer playoff rules made definitive sense.
Regardless, behind Casey, Colorado celebrated a 2-1 overtime victory over FC Dallas in frigid Canadian conditions as Casey took home MVP honors that coincided with his team high 16 goals that season.
It was a gritty run by a gritty contingent, spearheaded on the back of a gritty player.
One who now wears the blue and gold of the Union.
“We were pretty similar of being a blue collar team,” Casey recalls. “Working hard was the motto, we were never a team that was real fancy but we had that workmanlike mentality. To be honest, [Colorado] was probably in the same spot [as I am here with the Union] with just four games left to go. We were on the cusp of the playoffs and we just really needed to ramp it up and get wins.”
The wins didn’t come easy for the Rapids once in the playoffs, in fact, in the Eastern Conference semifinals, it took a 5-4 win in penalty kicks to emerge from the leg as victors. Colorado then battled San Jose (the No. 4 seed in the East) to a 1-0 win and a trip to its second MLS Cup in team history.
It was a dogfight throughout; very similar to the current battle Philadelphia is in.
One that continues with a match against Toronto FC this Saturday (7:30 p.m., purchase tickets).
“I think this is good for us,” Casey said. “This push makes every game at the end be about something and to mean something. You just have to be more focused and aware in these games at the end of the season because they also help you gear up for the playoffs and how you need to respond in those games, because you lose one game and you are out.”
And what is that mentality?
“It’s about not overthinking things too much and trying to really take into account the fact that in a situation like the one we are in right now, every game matters. We are in a position now because we have been doing the little things day in and day out in training to prepare.”
Union manager John Hackworth has repeatedly said he believes his team needs three solid wins in its last five to secure a spot in the playoffs – well, the group has one to set the tone -- and more importantly to ensure it doesn't come down to other teams to dictate where the Union wind up come season’s end.
Casey believes that can happen. And just like he did three seasons ago in Colorado, trust he’ll be doing his utmost to get the job done.
After all, he knows what it's like to adopt a “blue collar” mentality.
“Points are so important,” said Casey. “And when you play as well as I think we have and you don’t pull points from them, you can only rely on the knowledge that you played well for so long. So to get three points against a tough team in Kansas City was huge and I think everyone gets a little bit of extra boost and extra confidence and take that with us in these next couple games.”
What do you think about Conor’s play this season? Leave a comment below.
Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org