Tony Cascio already feels at home in Houston. Now he really is back home as the Dynamo continue their preseason training at a place he knows well—Tucson, Arizona.
"It's an hour 45 minutes from my house, I've got a decent fanbase out there with my family and a few friends," the winger told HoustonDynamo.com this week.
Cascio was born and raised in the Phoenix suburbs, a hundred-odd miles north of Tucson along the I-10 as it cuts its way through the desert. He was a star at the University of Connecticut, then selected by the Colorado Rapids in the first round of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. He joined the Dynamo last month on a season-long loan - the first such arrangement in MLS history.
"I was telling the guys, just messing around, at least I get in the [history] books for something," he joked. "The locker room in Colorado was good and coming here was easy, the guys are really nice. The guys have made the transition easy, the coach has made it easy."
The coming season will be the 23-year-old's third in MLS. Last year he made four league starts and nine substitute appearances, scoring once. In his debut campaign he saw more MLS action, with 29 games—18 of them starts—producing three goals and three assists.
"I'm here for a reason, I'm hopefully going to get some good quality playing time and make the best of it," he said. "If I get in or when I get in I've got to take advantage of it. I think last year my problem was I was just too inconsistent. I want to be out there and make the best of my opportunities. I want to show people that I can play at a consistent level."
Cascio has already looked lively in Houston's two preseason fixtures so far. He scored against his parent club last Sunday in a 3-2 defeat at Houston Sports Park and showed some promising attacking moves in Tucson on Wednesday night as the Portland Timbers ran out 2-0 winners with a pair of late goals.
Some players like to ease into preseason training and gradually improve as the weeks wear on, but that's not Cascio's philosophy. "l like to hit the ground running. We've been doing a little fitness; I've been feeling good as far as fitness goes, kind of on top of my game right now. I worked out during the offseason and feel fit, so I feel good," he said.
Head coach Dominic Kinnear is a fan of Cascio's potential and has been tracking him for years. "I followed him in college and when I saw him in Colorado I thought he'd fit in good. The guys have been really good welcoming him and I think he's played well so far," said Kinnear on Tuesday.
Cascio took a shot on average once every 33 minutes during his first two years in MLS. That's a rate comparable to many of the league's offensive leaders—for example, Federico Higuain and Robbie Keane both averaged a shot every 30 minutes in last year's regular season. And Kinnear believes that Cascio could flourish on either flank.
"He's very smart with the ball, he's got an attacking brain. I think he gets it. He's not afraid to make that first step forward and take people on. That's a reason why we tried to acquire him, too. He's not afraid to shoot, not afraid to try and get a little opening and let go. I think he could play right or left," he said.
"With the World Cup going on there's a reason we tried hard to bring Andrew back, tried hard to bring Tony here—because there's a good chance that we're going to be too light come summertime. To have two guys who can start easily for this team is a good thing to have," he said.
Next up for the Dynamo as they build towards the season-opener at home to the New England Revolution on March 8 are the San Jose Earthquakes. The game will be streamed live on HoustonDynamo.com on Saturday at 4 p.m. CT. Two days later the team meets FC Tucson of the USL Premier Development League, then heads back to Houston for a trio of scrimmages.
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.