TJ Casner was one of the best passers on a team full of quality distributors. After a strong career as a Clemson Tiger, he impressed with his crossing ability, vision from the wings, and aggressive attacking style. Sometimes a starter, other times an impact sub, Casner always left his mark on a match. I was able to ask TJ, or Robert as he was referred to on the USL’s roster(his less used legal first name) about the jump from college to the pros, new Houston Dynamo assistant Michael Dellorusso, and his favorite 2016 Toros’ memory.
Dynamo Theory: What would you say was the biggest difference between college soccer and professional soccer?
TJ Casner: In my opinion, the largest difference is the overall technical ability paired with the speed of quality decisions. Players at the professional level are, most of the time, thinking ahead, and have the technical quality to quickly execute their next idea. Those abilities contribute to the faster pace and cleanliness of the professional game.
DT: Looking back on your rookie year, what do you feel you need to improve on most for Year 2?
Casner: I think I need to be more clinical, and more productive. I was used exclusively as an attacking player this season, whether that be at the attacking midfield or wing position, and with that position comes the responsibility of producing for the team. I believe that adding some pace, whilst being more direct creative going forward, will help me thrive on my own skill set.
DT: You finished the season with five assists. What helps you act as a playmaker?
Casner: I was fortunate enough in college to have a coach that stressed the importance of the final pass. Playing under him as a midfielder helped me grasp the concept of focusing on the quality, and instinct of finding a seam to exploit and set up my teammates.
DT: What was your favorite moment in your 2016 season with the Toros?
Casner: I would have to say our match vs. Swope Park Rangers in Kansas City, which coincidentally happens to be the match you attended!
Despite playing against a team that was loaded with 9 starters from the MLS’ Sporting KC squad, we handled, and comfortably beat a team that on paper was supposedly superior. Clearly that wasn't the case, and we made two statements: One to the public eye that we could compete, and to ourselves that we're talented enough as a group and as individuals to play at any level in this country.
DT: Michael Dellorusso was hired by the Dynamo as Wilmer Cabrera’s top assistant. What can you tell everyone about Dello?
Casner: Dellorusso was probably the most down to earth guy that I've met within the organization so far, which makes him fantastic to talk to about any topic. He's honest, straight to the point, and always has your best interest in mind when it comes to maximizing a player's potential. He's extremely reliable and definitely doesn't mind hopping into the sessions once in a while!
DT: H-E-B Park is scheduled to be finished in time for the 2017 regular season. How did you enjoy the facilities for RGVFC this season?
Casner: I will forward my answer by saying when the facilities that are currently being prepared for next year's team are complete, there is no question that it will be the premier playing establishment in USL, as well as top notch among MLS competition.
That being said, the facilities were initially nonexistent given the fact that the club was brand new. We were eventually able to move from both the field and locker room of UTRGV, into the locker room of the RGV Vipers mismatched with our new training facility, which is fantastic.
I do not think anyone from the players to the staff within the organization was necessarily happy with the circumstances, but I do believe it provided our team with some unexpected benefits. It allowed us to really bond together as a family while we juggled the hurdles of being a first year organization, and that ultimately brought more enjoyment than any facility could.
DT: Your hair is certainly noteworthy. How would you say it stacks up on the 2016 Toros’ roster?
Casner: I mean, I think there is only one power ranking, and it has to go to Bird. There was plenty of behind the scenes work that definitely puts him in another class. He also had a bit of a head start, but should well deservedly take the crown.
DT: Lastly, your alma mater, Clemson University, has had another great year in football with Deshaun Watson. Will we see them among the four College Football Playoff teams, and can they beat Alabama?
Casner: I definitely believe that Clemson will be competing in the CFP, despite the hiccup against Pittsburgh earlier this year. That being said, I think the team will have to play at a level that I don't think Clemson fans have seen yet this year, in order to bring home the trophy.