The man, the myth, the Colorado legend: Conor Casey to join Gallery of Honor

June 18, 2011; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rapids forward Conor Casey (9) takes a shot in the first half against the Los Angeles Galaxy at Dicks Sporting Goods Park. Mandatory Credit: The Galaxy defeated the Rapids 3-1. Andrew B. Fielding-USA TODAY Sports

The man synonymous with Colorado soccer is getting the recognition he’s long deserved. Former Rapids player and current assistant coach Conor Casey will be inducted into the Rapids Gallery of Honor prior to Saturday’s match against the Columbus Crew.

Although he’s not technically a Colorado native, Mile High blood runs through Casey’s veins. He moved to Denver at the tender age of five from New Hampshire and spent his formative years here. He attended South High School where he played well enough to earn an opportunity to ply his trade in college at the University of Portland.

In 1999, Casey exploded onto the collegiate scene. He was named the Pilots’ best player in his freshman year, but that wasn’t enough for him. A year later, he led the entire NCAA in scoring with 23 goals and added seven assists for good measure.

In the same year that he led the NCAA in scoring, Casey impressed with team USA at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. In fact, he was so impressive that he was signed by one of the most recognizable clubs in international soccer despite only being a sophomore in college. He ended up signing a contract with Borussia Dortmund of the German Bundesliga.

Despite a relatively successful career across the pond (he scored 41 goals in 122 games), Casey returned stateside to continue his career in 2007. He was initially assigned to Toronto FC, but the Rapids couldn’t stand pat with the pride of Denver in the MLS but not on the correct team. After just two appearances for Toronto, the Rapids traded Riley O’Neill for the player who would become the all-time scoring leader in Colorado Rapids history.

After his first year with the Rapids, in which he scored two goals in 15 games, Casey scored at least 10 goals every season for three seasons straight. He capped his long run of fine form in 2010 when he led the Rapids to their only MLS Cup title and was named MVP of the MLS Cup Championship. That season he scored 13 goals in only 27 games.

Just before and during his time with the Rapids, Casey also enjoyed success with the USMNT. He played for the red, white and blue from 2004-2010, made 19 appearances with the senior team and scored two goals during that time.

After his tenure with the Rapids, Casey found more MLS success in his three years with the Philadelphia Union and his one season with Saturday’s opponent, the Columbus Crew. He retired from the MLS just last year and is 25th in all-time scoring for the league with 71 total goals. Sixteen players ahead of him on that list played more games.

Now, Casey is home again and is helping the team in his role as assistant coach, where he’s already shown his cerebral understanding of the game. In the Rapids’ forgettable loss against the Philadelphia Union on May 20, instead of letting head coach Pablo Mastroeni get sent off for manifesting his frustration with the officiating through his body language, Casey took the hit for the team and was sent off in Mastroeni’s stead. It’s a move that would surprise absolutely nobody who followed Casey during his playing career. He was always a player that would put the team first.

After practice on Friday, Mastroeni, Casey’s teammate for the duration of Casey’s stay in Colorado and a member of the Rapids’ 2010 MLS Cup, took the time to detail what his relationship with Casey has meant to him and the Rapids organization as a whole.

“As a player you play with a lot of different players, and there are certain players that you play with that you bond with off the field, and then you win championships with on the field,” Mastroeni said. “Now as coaches, we’re doing it again and trying to win a championship in that way. It’s been a really great journey and I’m really excited.”

Casey, who will be the sixth member of the Gallery of Honor, will join Marcelo Balboa, Paul Bravo, Chris Henderson, John Spencer and Mastroeni in the vaunted club. His name will be honored alongside the No. 9 he’s always cherished. Be sure to get to Dick’s Sporting Good’s Park ahead of the 7 p.m. MT start time to take part in Casey’s much deserved induction.

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