COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – As a player, Conor Casey cemented himself as a Colorado Rapids legend, scoring a club record 50 goals in 119 appearances over five seasons. Now in his second season as a Rapids assistant coach, he’s trying to harness the same energy that made him great as a player.
“It’s nice to be able to stay in the game,” Casey told Pro Soccer USA. “Coming from being a player and having it be your whole life, and transitioning to a coaching role, it’s different, for sure. You still get that same satisfaction of working with players and working with a group of people that are trying to achieve something. That part has been awesome.”
Alongside goalkeeping coach Chris Sharpe, Casey remained with the club to join newly-hired head coach Anthony Hudson’s staff. They’re helping the first-year Rapids coach in establish the foundation for a new culture and system in Colorado.
“It was so important to have people here that know the club, the fans, the players, the league,” Hudson said of his assistants. “Conor and Sharpie have helped us immensely with all sorts of things.”
Hudson also brought in assistants Darren Bazeley, Neil Emblen and first-team analyst Jase Kim from his time with the New Zealand National Team.
Casey and Sharpe have helped serve as a bridge between the old and new.
“This year, with Anthony coming in, it’s been a big transition in terms of the way he works, a new formation change and staff coming in,” Casey explained. “It’s all been extremely positive in the way that he’s trying to raise the standards here both on and off the field for the club.”
There’s been challenges and learning curves along the way while adjusting to change, but Casey has met them all with enthusiasm.
“Every coach has a different way of doing things, a different way of seeing the game,” Casey said. “[Hudson] is coaching at an extremely high level and he’s very organized, very specific about what he wants. That’s been great. I’ve been working with that staff to deliver his messages and do anything that he needs to move the group forward.”
Some of that labor has borne fruit. Colorado’s goals-per-game average in the first eight games of 2018 is double what it was during the same period last season. Multiple factors, including the formation and system change, factor into that production. Casey also gives a large amount of credit to fourth-year striker Dominique Badji, who’s been accountable for five of Colorado’s 10 goals this season.
“As a former forward, I know that all you think about is goals. He’s done it now and has had a good start,” Casey said of Badji. “But now, it’s about continuing to grow, fine-tuning his movements and getting his relationships with all these forwards on the same page.”
As Casey explained, those relationships are important, particularly in Hudson’s 3-5-2 formation, which involves two strikers playing off each other at the top of the formation. As Colorado looks for production from other parts of the lineup, cultivating those relationships on the training ground will prove vital.
“It’s about getting repetitions with each other to make sure they all feel comfortable and are on the same page,” Casey said. “The opportunities have been there. Joe [Mason] has scored in the few minutes he’s had. [Yannick] Boli hasn’t seen much of the field yet. Jack [McBean] has had minutes here and there and has had a couple sniffs. For forwards, it’s all about getting opportunities and getting looks and I feel like their movements have been good.”
There are some who argue Casey should return to lacing up the boots on gameday, but those days are well behind him. Nonetheless, he still takes enjoyment from getting out on the training ground. He not only coaches, but sometimes jumps into scrimmages– where the former No. 9 has even played centerback or right back at times.
In the transition from player to coach, his role has changed, but his love of the game remains the same.
“It’s nice to be outside always and be with the players,” Casey said. “Football is the most fun thing to do so it’s nice to get out there for a few minutes.
“Every day is something new and something to get better at. It’s been really enjoyable.”