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BY KYLE GARCIA/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Former Pilots star continues guiding Colorado Rapids' turnaround

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Colorado Rapids interim coach Conor Casey urges on his team in a 2-2 draw with the Portland Timbers.It was a whirlwind of a match Saturday night at Providence Park, with the Portland Timbers and Colorado Rapids ending in a 2-2 tie after Portland played a man down for most of the second half.

The game also featured a homecoming for one of the Rose City's past stars of the pitch, former Portland Pilot and current Rapids interim coach Conor Casey.

Casey spent two seasons on The Bluff before joining German soccer club Borussia Dortmund. He was the West Coast Conference Player of the Year as a freshman in 1999 and led the NCAA in scoring in 2000 with 23 goals and seven assists.

Even though he was here for only a short while, Portland holds a special place in his heart.

"It's a great soccer city," Casey said. "Have a lot of good memories here. My old coach, Clive Charles, was a big part of my life, so it's nice to be back and meet some of the people I went to school with."

Charles, who coached both the men's and women's soccer teams at the University of Portland from 1986 to 2003, influenced Casey's coaching style.

"I learned a lot from Clive," Casey said. "He was a big mentor of mine in terms of how he dealt with people, dealt with players, motivated people, and just his whole general essence was very powerful in my life."

Casey took over for Anthony Hudson on May 1, after Hudson was fired following an 0-5 start.

Casey joined the coaching staff in 2017 as an assistant and is Colorado's all-time leading scorer, with 50 goals in 119 appearances from 2007-12.

Since Casey has been at the helm, the Rapids are 5-3-4, including a seven-game unbeaten streak that was snapped with a 2-1 loss to the New England Revolution. He has been pivotal in righting the ship for Colorado.

"I think it's been a lot of different things," Casey said about adjustments made since he took over as the skipper. "The team's come together. We've been able to stop leaking goals, and our mentality has changed. We believe we can win every game and that we're going to be in every game. And we showed that tonight."

Even though he had the chance to meet with friends from college earlier in the day, Casey had a job to do and was happy to leave with a point.

"It's a business trip," Casey said. "We came in just two points short of what we thought we had at the end, but I'm very proud of our guys. It's great for our mentality that we know we can come into very difficult places like this, one of the most difficult places in the league, and put in good performances."

Colorado's next MLS match will be at home Saturday against New York City FC. Before that, the Rapids will play a friendly against Premier League Club Arsenal on Monday. Regardless of the outcome, Casey expects the match to be a good time for both the players and the fans.

"That'll be very exciting," Casey said. "It's going to be great for our fans, great for our city to have such a well-renowned team come and play against us, and it'll be a great chance for some of our guys to get some minutes against top players in the world. Should be a great night for us."

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