Former Colorado Rapids coach Gary Smith had a very restrictive system when it came to youth players. There seemed to be a system that kept the kids in the reserve team for at least a year and sometimes more before they could even sniff the field for some first team football at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
It was a system that worked fairly well - well enough to get Colorado to the MLS Cup in 2010 obviously - but it was a bit, shall we say, out of date. This is a league that is increasingly being driven by the youth players and leaving them off the field like Smith did with Eddie Ababio, Ross LaBauex or Andre Akpan just got frustrating as less talented but older tenured players were getting the field time during the injury situation last season.
Fortunately, it's pretty likely that our newest player Tony Cascio isn't going to be quite as bound as former Rapids youth were under the new regime.
Cascio's skill-set is varied and impressive, to say the least. The guy can play at any spot in the midfield as well as a bit of forward if needs be, the kind of versatility that coaches just love from players. The question is where we're going to see him next year and how much we're going to see him play.
The key lies in our usual service-master, Jamie Smith. As we all remember - unless you've been trying to block out the memories of the event like I have - Jamie tore his ACL in the Rapids' final win of the year against the Columbus Crew. That's guaranteed to keep him out until probably July or August at the very least, and at his advancing age of 31 it might just spell the end of his career. His injury history has been completely terrible and he missed over half the games in 2011 even as he scored 3 goals and a couple assists. With the loss of Sanna Nyassi as well, that leaves only Cascio remaining for offensive playmaking on the wing.
With Jamie Smith completely healthy, I think the Rapids would use a bit of caution on their rookie, keep him in the reserves as much as possible while sneaking him into a first team position every couple of games or so. Unless there is another big name signing who can play wing - another player at wing in general will likely be a required pick up in the offseason unless they move Danny Earls up there or something - we're likely going to see Cascio penciled in to 20 or more starts on the left wing in 2012 opposite of Brian Mullan, or on the right wing with, perhaps, Wells Thompson at his side.
It's not an exaggeration to say that Cascio might be one of the most important players on the Rapids for 2012. He can't just be the next Ross LaBauex, he's going to have to break ground like no Rapids rookie has done in a very, very long time.