By: Emily Haggstrom Issue: Sports Section: Collaborator Profile
Born Wearing Golden Boots, Casey Strikes Fear into Opposing Teams
Being a professional athlete in the United States is something that many young children aspire to become. In today’s popular culture it seems being famous can seemingly lift these children from life’s encumbrances and propel them into an existence of celebrity, notoriety and money. It is these qualities that have children across the nation rapt in hopes that they will one day become their own next hero. And American’s love their heroes; especially ones that are American made, like football, basketball, baseball and even NASCAR heroes. Champions of sports we can all rally behind, sports we know and love because we created them. However, through centuries old attempts to differentiate ourselves through unique cultural focal points, we have become uninformed about some of the world’s most famous and most followed sports, along with their players.
It took Lance Armstrong to introduce us to cycling and finally David Beckham to establish dwindling attendance in newly formed soccer stadiums across America. Although the number of youth soccer players has demonstrated the sports foothold in the United States, soccer is not a highly publicized American past time. While soccer stars in the U.S. experience less attention nationally, it is internationally where they are recognized. With over 240 million people in 200 countries playing soccer, millions more flood into stadiums across the globe while billions watch mesmerized in front of their television screens.
This year while a number of American’s recover from their Memorial Day weekends, the rest of the world will be organizing their days and their work schedules to converge on South Africa in both body and spirit to be mesmerized once again watching, arguably, the largest tournament in the world. A tournament draw secured by the U.S. in a game against Honduras, led by forward Conor Casey, who scored his first two international goals which proved to be critical for the Americans in securing a World Cup berth. “It was so awesome going in knowing that if we won we’d be qualified for the World Cup. To win it the way that we did, to play, to start and to score my first goals was pretty special for me.
It was a great celebration afterwards too with champagne in the locker room.” The U.S. and Casey rallied just days later at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. to clinch first place in their division. Casey along with the rest of the team, coming off a recent victory and a deadly accident a day earlier involving one of their beloved teammates, felt the pressure to win. In the end they managed to tie the game in the final minutes. “I think it said a lot about our team’s character.”
It’s also very telling of Casey’s character. While some children are born with a silver spoon in their mouth, Casey was born with golden boots on his feet. Working hard since the age of five, Casey honed his skills and made a career out of soccer that millions around the world dream of accomplishing every day. He’s played collegiate soccer, been to the Olympics, fought promotion and relegation in Germany with four different squads, participated in the United States first appearance in a FIFA Confederations Cup final and most recently was pulled up to play in the World Cup Qualifiers for the U.S. Men’s National Team.
He’s learned from the best what it takes to be a leader and a team player. Most notably from the late legendary Clive Charles, who taught Casey to respect his opponents, work hard for his team and to ultimately enjoy the game. Charles, a charming and honest man, is credited with propelling Casey’s career through his tactical knowledge of a match. “He helped my game immensely,” said Casey. In fact, it was Charles who proved a huge advantage in Casey’s 2000 Olympic appearance and giving him a stage to gain visibility within the professional European leagues. Shortly after the Olympic games, Casey signed with Borussia Dortmond in Germany, paving the way to his new found career in Europe; a career that brought both injury and struggle but ultimately demonstrated his increased technical ability and staying power. Although the teams in Europe had an immense number of talented players, teams were separated psychologically through a dog-eat-dog mentality. Casey, along with every other player in the European leagues, fought hard for their positions creating a competitive atmosphere amongst teammates who needed to prove themselves for promotion, as well as thwarting loan and relegation. “There’s definitely camaraderie,” he said, “but it’s not an easy thing to get a team of professionals that are all fighting for the same positions to be in the same mindset working to help their team.”
After six years battling on the pitches in some of the most idyllic cities in Europe, Casey returned home to the United States where he could regain his confidence as a player and maintain steady playing time. While he has been described as a big-bodied cement mixer by naysayers and even ridiculed in regards to his ability, what is surprising about Casey’s 6’ 2” frame is that at times he can be hard to defend. This unique oddity combined with the grace of his footwork and his proven ability to connect the ball with the back of the net seems to continuously set Casey apart up from the fray to prove his detractors wrong.
Even while he missed numerous regular season games with the Colorado Rapids to travel with the Men’s National Team in their quest to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, Casey still managed to be the second highest scorer in Major League Soccer (MLS). A feat to be highly regarded at any measure, he was only one goal shy of the leader who played four more games than Casey; solidifying him as a leader on his team and to impressionable rookies just joining the league. Reflecting he says, “It’s strange; I’ve always associated leadership with being an older player and I guess I’m getting kind of old now but I don’t want to think about that. Obviously getting called to the National Team and scoring goals last year has absolutely helped, and I am sure there are guys coming into the league that I could definitely help along.” Just like Pablo Mastreoni has helped Casey during his transition into the MLS by being a driving force vocally, through hard work, and by the examples he sets as the Rapids captain. With five or six players rotating in every year, it’s the example that Mastreoni sets that Casey really admires.
Since returning to the U.S.,Casey has been able to take this growth and add some depth, not only to his statistics but to his life in general. He has found that playing with the Rapids has brought him an elevated sense of team who support each other on and off of the field.
Casey says, “You have a mixture of guys who’ve just come out of college who are 19 and 20 and guys that are 35 and married with kids, you aren’t always going to have guys that are on the same page or at the same spots in their lives but we’ve got a good group who understands each other well.” It is also this core group of professionals who dedicate their time off the field, volunteering with Kicks for Kids, a program that benefits underprivileged children through soccer and corporate donations, an organization the Rapids are very involved in. The team also participates in coaching their academy teams three to four times a week. “The Rapids in general are very involved,” he adds, “They do a lot throughout the community to keep all of us involved too.” And although Casey is on the road a lot, he donates his personal time to the youth soccer league, America SCORES, whose aim is to provide a weekly after-school program that keeps kids off of the streets, by weaving in exercise through soccer and exploring their creative side through poetry. It is a program that exposes kids to a positive social environment and keeps their creative elements in motion and their physical attributes conditioned. “It is pretty cool to see the kids at the end of the year play in their final games and get to do their poetry downtown (in Denver) in front of everyone,” he said.
With an amazing year and a half behind him, Casey’s sun is still high in the sky. He is playing in a sport that dominates the world’s cultures and is recognized amongst some of the top players in the world. A leader in his own right, he’s worked with and played against professionals across the globe, who have managed to succeed in a fiercely competitive environment, but have decisively united in teamwork to play their best for their clubs. It will be a spectacle young soccer players across America will witness this year, when a team of proud American players humbly suit up, as leaders in their sport, to represent the U.S. through teamwork and mutual respect in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Without aging himself, Casey says the one thing he would tell these younger players watching across America, who wish to succeed and eventually play in college or at the professional level is to, “Just enjoy it, if you enjoy it things just fall into place.”
Emily Haggstrom has a B.A. in Journalism and Media from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She is a member of the Level One Society in Denver, Colorado and sits in on various charity committees. In an effort to impact her local community she also volunteers for Whiz Kids Tutoring, Inc. as well as Denver Health Medical Center.