TORONTO ON - NOVEMBER 21: Conor Casey #9 of the Colorado Rapids looks on during the first half of the game against FC Dallas during the first half of the 2010 MLS Cup match at BMO Field on November 21 2010 in Toronto Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
The signing of Caleb Folan, and the attendant red tape that went with it, has been one of the most anticipated moves of the Rapids offseason. While it may not have been the move that many of the critics would have liked the Rapids to make (the suggestion being that the Rapids should seek out a forward playmaker), it was a move that I believe has been in the works for some time. And with good reason: I've said before that the signing of a player of Folan's pedigree and physical stature has been tactically necessary for the Rapids for the better part of the last two seasons.
Join me after the jump for why I think fans should be excited for what Folan can bring to the table, and why it has an impact on Colorado's hopes to be in the race for the Supporters' Shield this season. Specifically: How this all ties back into Conor Casey.
The reason that Folan is such an important signing is that he brings added depth to the Target Man position that Casey plays. Looking at the two of them, there isn't a lot to separate them physically. They are both big, skillful, forwards who like to hold the ball up and make devastating near post runs. The reason this is so crucial is that so far at Colorado, Conor Casey has never been really challenged for supremacy at this position. Conor has been the only one who can play that position, and no one could challenge him for it.
And the numbers speak for themselves: Casey is the best (simply by consistent goals scored) target man in MLS. This should be inarguable. He puts up numbers that put him in the Golden Boot race season-after-season. And he hasn't really changed his game: he makes himself big, wins the ball, and is able to hold it up without getting overwhelmed by bigger center-backs.
But with no competition comes complacency. Every Rapids fan knows about the "Summer Doldrums"-- that long period, usually in the summer, when the Rapids just can't seem to get a win. The play on the field seems to stagnate, everyone looks tired and like they are not having any fun. No one could have been said to have taken more flak for that stagnation than Conor Casey. Goals for him seemed to dry up over the hot summer months.
But what was the remedy? How do you push Conor (and thus the rest of the team who looks to him for leadership) harder through the summer? No one can challenge Conor for his starting spot without a complete change in tactics for Gary Smith. Taking out Conor for someone like Quincy Amarikwa, Andre Akpan, or Macoumba Kandji would result in a major tactical shift: you lose your Target Man. Without a guy to hold the ball up, until the rest of the team can join in attack, the Rapids lose the element of surprise which benefits them on the counter-attack with deadly effect.
So what do you do?
You go shopping.
Gary Smith has been scouring for more forwards to make his bench even deeper, and came across a real gem in Caleb Folan. Folan has a pedigree that includes a youth spent at Leeds, and a professional career that had him competing with Hull City in the Barclay's Premier League. He's big, he's tough, he holds the ball up...
In short, Gary Smith had found his man.
Some may criticize and say that Folan never really had a great career as a striker, and scored very few goals. The bare fact of this cannot be disputed. However, one could also point the same thing out about Conor Casey himself when he came to the MLS from Germany. You never quite know how a change in coaching strategy, scenery, or any number of factors can affect someone's goal production ability.
Clearly, from the numbers on the season, Gary Smith and his staff know how to get strikers scoring goals. Caleb Folan will find himself in fertile soil for a goal scoring downpour. But let's not be too hasty, Folan is an option on the bench for now, and only potentially could he see a start over the proven tandem of Cummings and Casey. More importantly, however, for tactical reasons, the addition of Folan is going to both put pressure on and take pressure off Conor Casey.
The pressure will be on Casey to perform consistently this year, should Folan continue to impress. And should he not perform consistently, the Rapids will have another option to pick up the Target Man spot. Either way would work well for Smith, as long as the goals don't stop flowing. In sum: Smith has made a move which will solidify his club and a major step to ensure consistency over the long 2011 season.
And if the Rapids remain consistent, and keep up the intensity of their play from their run to the MLS Cup Final, then they will be major contenders for the Supporter's Shield.