Philadelphia Union forward Conor Casey

Entering MLS Week 27, the Philadelphia Union sat in last place as they flew 2,500 miles across the country -- their furthest flight of the year -- to face a San Jose Earthquakes side that had won four straight, including back-to-back victories over the top team in the East (D.C. United) and the best in the West (LA Galaxy).

On paper, and on the scoreboard when the Earthquakes took a 1-0 lead on a Chris Wondolowski penalty kick in the 64th minute of Saturday's match, Philadelphia looked unlikely to snap that streak. 

Until Union head coach Jim Curtin called upon an unlikely hero.

By the time Conor Casey came off the bench at Avaya Stadium in the 71st minute for his first MLS appearance in over a month, the Earthquakes had held opponents without a goal for 444 consecutive minutes. However, the league's longest shutout streak in 2015 would last only three more minutes when Casey headed home (video) a cross from Raymon Gaddis to level the score then again directed a header past David Bingham in the 86th minute for the game-winning goal (video).

“Conor came in and got us two huge goals,” Curtin said postgame. “He’s been a real veteran and a positive guy in the locker room even though he hasn’t been playing a lot. When he got his time, he certainly took advantage of it.”

The three points lifted Philadelphia three spots in the Western Conference standings -- where the Union now sit one point out of playoff position -- and resuscitated not only a late-season rally, but also the confidence of the 34-year-old forward.

“It felt good,” Casey said. “It’s been a while. It always feels good to score. As a forward, that’s what you think about.” 

Casey is now one of only four MLS players to score multiple goals in each of the past nine years (along with Brad Davis, Alan Gordon and Fabian Espindola) and his 71 career regular season goals rank fourth most among active players.

Chris Wondolowski
Edson Buddle
Kenny Cooper
Conor Casey
Eddie Johnson

Six of those 71 goals have come against Sporting Kansas City, making him the top scorer in the all-time series on the Union's roster ahead of the U.S. Open Cup Final on Sept. 30 at PPL Park. 

While Saturday was Casey's 11th multi-goal game of his MLS career, his first came against Sporting KC on Aug. 16, 2008 in his initial match-up with the club. He twice put the Rapids ahead in the 2-1 win with goals in the 11th and 47th minutes.

Fast forward to 2010 and Casey would continue scoring at crucial junctures with four goals in a six-game span against KC:

July 17, 2010: Game-tying goal in 74th minute of 1-1 draw
May 28, 2011: Go-ahead goal in 13th minute of 1-1 draw
July 6, 2011: Go-ahead goal in 32nd minute of 1-1 draw
Sept. 27, 2013: Game-winning goal in 36th minute of 1-0 victory

The latter was his debut in a Union uniform after six seasons in Colorado and he's gone on to contribute 21 goals over the past three years in Philadelphia. However, after starting 43 games in 2013/14, the former U.S. Men's National Team striker has made just two MLS starts in 2015.

In fact, the last time Casey cracked the starting lineup for the Union across all competitions was the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal on July 21 at the New York Red Bulls. Casey was shown a straight red card in the 40th minute and served his one-game suspension in the semifinals last month.

Eligible again to suit up for the championship, Casey could be in consideration for a starring role alongside former Sporting KC forward C.J. Sapong, Venezuelan Designated Player Fernando Aristeguieta and Sebastien Le Toux -- the competition's leading scorer in the modern era. It's an all-hands-on-deck approach for a Union side that has scored just four goals over four games en route to reaching the final.

Conversely, Sporting KC has struck 13 times in the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup -- tied for the most among all 91 teams that entered the tournament.