May 21, 2014
By Steve Lewis – UConn Athletic Communications
STORRS, Conn. – Preparing to enter his third season in Major League Soccer, former UConn midfielder Tony Cascio (Gilbert, Ariz.) was eager to make an impact for the Colorado Rapids in 2014. When Cascio received news back in January that he was being sent to Houston in the league’s first-ever intraleague loan, things changed very quickly.
“I drove to Denver and the next day I remember the technical director of Colorado coming in and said you’re getting loaned out,” recalls Cascio about the exchange.
MLS teams are owned and controlled by the same group of league investors who continuously try to find ways to balance competition among its franchises. The new intraleague loan mechanism is meant to give young talent a better chance to play by loaning them to another team on a yearly basis.
“I just kind of took it. I knew this could happen as a player,” said Cascio. “My mom always told me I could go anywhere with a soccer ball. The useful thing is that you get to keep playing.”
Cascio started his first game as a Houston Dynamo on March 8 against the New England Revolution, beginning what seemed to be a season full of play-time and recognition for the 24 year-old. It was a break-out opportunity.
“Honestly, I think the move was good for me because I was getting, I guess you could say, comfortable or complacent in Colorado,” Cascio said. “The move sparked me a bit. I had a good preseason and started the first game, which was a big accomplishment for me.”
After playing in five games in 2014, four of which he started, Cascio’s season abruptly ended when he tore his ACL. The injury prevented what could have been a great season for the young midfielder as he looks to realize his professional potential, but Cascio’s focus has never been stronger.
“I’m rehabbing every day, just trying to get back out there,” said Cascio. “It’s hard because I was used to playing every day, but now I have to sit back and try to get better.”
The recovery timeline appears to be anywhere from six to nine months, but if it were up to Cascio, he would be playing next week.
“I think it’s going pretty fast,” the UConn alum said. “It’s a long process, but I’m sticking to it. A lot of other people have gone through it.”
Selected No. 14 overall in the 2012 MLS Draft by the Rapids, Cascio spent two seasons in Denver acquiring playing experience and growing accustomed to the pace of professional soccer. The former Big East Offensive Player of the Year (2010) was impressed with the level of play, but did not feel overwhelmed.
“Well, the big thing is there’s no homework,” joked Cascio when discussing the difference between soccer at UConn and in MLS. “It’s basically all the good guys from college, they’ve just gotten stronger and faster. Here it’s more of a mindset. You need a professional attitude going into every game.”
In 2013, Cascio played in 13 games for the Rapids, logging 530 total minutes and firing 14 shots, five of which were on goal. His only goal of the season came in the form of a game-winner in the sixth minute of stoppage time against the Montreal Impact on June 29.
His rookie season in 2012 has been his most impressive to date, starting 18 games and playing in 29 throughout the year. Cascio started the first game of his rookie season in a win over the Columbus Crew. He would go on to score three goals that season, two of which were game-winning, on 53 total shots as he logged a career-best 1,692 minutes.
Though professional soccer training and adaptation has enhanced his physical skills, Cascio credits his mental progression for keeping him focused and goal-oriented when facing challenges or hardship.
“I think as far as the mental side, I would say I’m a little tougher,” said Cascio. “Growing up, I was always kind of one of the better players and in college the same thing. But here, you have to earn your spot…it wears on you, but you have to keep playing and hope you get your chance.”
During his time at UConn, Cascio was indeed a star player under Connecticut soccer coach Ray Reid. In 85 total matches as a Husky, Cascio scored 24 goals, contributed 25 assists and was named a 2010 NSCAA First-Team All-American. He was also a two-time All-Big East First Team selection in 2009 and 2010.
“Tony was one of the most coachable players that we’ve ever had at UConn,” Reid said. “He loves the game and he is extremely driven. He has tremendous upside in the MLS.”
Cascio was a MAC Hermann Trophy Semifinalist in his junior season with 26 total points in 2010, as well as boasting a shot-on-goal percentage of .400.
“I think coach Reid and UConn had a big impact on my soccer career as far as the mentality that he instilled in his players that winning is pretty much everything,” recalls Cascio about his playing days in Storrs. “He got that out of his players and they wanted to win, and at that level, winning isn’t everything, but it helps to have that mindset.”
At the conclusion of the 2014 MLS season, Houston will have the option of sending Cascio back to Colorado or signing him from the loan to a full-time deal.
Though his destination is uncertain, Cascio has a bright future no matter where he ends up. The former Husky looks to recover, train and work his way back onto the field as soon as possible so he can continue his long, promising career.