Greg Lalas
Monday October 12th, 2009

A few minutes after Conor Casey bullied in the U.S.' first goal against Honduras on Saturday night, after the cheering died down at the bar where I watched the game, someone shouted out: "Well done, but we still don't rate you!" A few chuckles rang out. Obviously, we weren't in Denver.

I glanced over at my companions, a couple of in-the-know soccerheads (OK, smug in-the-know soccerheads). One, a former U.S. international, shook his head. "What more does the guy have to do?" he said. "Conor is near the top of the goal list in MLS and he's just scored a huge goal for the national team."

Casey, of course, went on to notch a gorgeous, rapier-like second goal and draw the foul that led to Landon Donovan's free-kick strike. In many ways, the decisive foul showed exactly why Casey has had so much success in the league this season with the Colorado Rapids and why he got the nod over Brian Ching and Jozy Altidore.

Put simply, Casey was sharp. He was alert and quick-witted, playing more on instinct than thought, the way a player can only when he's match-fit and in form. His intelligent movement got him the ball. His mix of brute strength and gentle-giant's feet -- he has the soft touch of a reiki master -- spirited him away from the initial challenge before his feet were entangled by a Honduran defender. The whistle blew. Foul. Free kick. Game over.

Now, before we anoint Casey the next "next Brian McBride" -- the Holy Grail for U.S. soccer fans these days -- let's keep some perspective. His performance on Saturday was vital. But it doesn't mean he's a lock for the final 23 next summer in South Africa. Nor does it mean he's set to join Oguchi Onyewu at AC Milan. Or even Charlie Davies in Ligue 1.

What it does, though, is prove for the umpteenth time the value of regular action, even if that action is in MLS. Altidore -- whose name, I hear, was chanted at one bar in California when the U.S. fans first saw the starting lineup -- is riding the pine at English Premier League side Hull City; Casey is playing 90 minutes every week and punching in goals like he's George Foreman on the speed bag. The choice of whom to start was simple for Bob Bradley. And the consequences thereof shouldn't have been all that unexpected. If you don't rate Casey right now, you're not watching.

Like Stuart Holden stepping in for Clint Dempsey, I'm subbing in for Jonah Freedman on the Stock Watch. I know I can only hope to replicate his skillzzz, but I just want to help the team. I'm going to take it one name at a time.


Bob Bradley. He had one responsibility this year -- get the U.S. into the World Cup -- and he did that. Oh, and along the way, he beat the No. 1 team in the world, reached the final of the Confederations Cup, coached the U.S. B-team to the CONCACAF Gold Cup final, and did it all under constant heat from the fans and media who questioned his every move. Time to tip your hat, people. Well done, coach.

Lord of the manor

Landon Donovan. A goal and an assist against Honduras means that Donovan has either scored or assisted on 12 of the U.S.' 17 goals in the Hexagonal. Honestly, at what point will the rest of the world just accept that, despite his not playing in Europe, LD is world-class?

With a (small) bullet

Jonathan Bornstein. He had a rough summer with the national team, never really looking like his old, pre-injury self. But against Honduras, he was quick, purposeful and he got stronger as the game went on. If he can take possession of that problematic left-back position, then Carlos Bocanegra can rejoin Onyewu back in the middle where he belongs.

Work in progress (again)

Jozy Altidore. We all know he has immense potential. And he's shown flashes of it this year: the turn against Spain, the hat-trick against Trinidad and Tobago. But until he can assert himself at the club level -- Hull is the third club in the last 12 months that has not considered him ready for the show -- he can't be the man. But he doesn't have to be yet. He's still a boy after all, just 19, and he has plenty of time to come into his own.

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