TJ Casner was a third round selection of the Houston Dynamo in the 2016 MLS Superdraft. He was coming off a season where he led the Clemson Tigers to the NCAA Championship game and was voted an All American. Casner has appeared in every match so far this season for the Toros and I checked in with the California native to see how things are in the Valley.
Q: How surprised were you to find out you would be with RGVFC, not Houston, this season?
Casner: Honestly not too surprised. I am a young player coming from a college environment, and Houston has a fantastic set up for others and myself alike to develop into MLS caliber players.
Q: What do you feel you need to improve on most this season to take that next step and join Houston in the MLS
Casner: I definitely need to improve my adaptability and learning curve. At the professional level, and especially as a young player, it is necessary to be able to perform to the standard wherever you are needed. Professional coaches and scouts may see different abilities within a player that the player might not see himself and require him to play a different position. At the MLS level, that air of professionalism is the mentality that separates players from the amateur level. I also need to be a bit savvier defensively to help give my offensive qualities more room to show.
Q: How would you describe your skillset on the pitch?
Casner: I would describe myself as an offensive minded, crafty left winger/midfielder. I believe that I have good technical ability and can take players on with a good balance of skill and pace. I believe I need to improve my shiftiness/deception in order to be a more complete wing player. I also have the ability to score goals and love to get on the ball in and around the box to take my chances.
Q: You were able to spend the preseason with the Dynamo. What player gave you the best advice in camp?
Casner: Leonel Miranda and Giles Barnes both advised me to let go of the nerves and play without fear. As a young player, it’s difficult to enter the professional environment without fear of making mistakes. Both of those players reassured that my individuality as a soccer player is the majority portion of being inducted into the professional ranks. I took that advice as a boost to my confidence early on in preseason and applied it the best that I could.
Q: Spending camp with the first team also gave you a chance to interact with Owen Coyle. Who gets more fired up in training, Coyle or Toros skipper Wilmer Cabrera?
Casner: I believe that both coaches share the same level of passion and desire for their players to improve and execute with quality. I believe that coach Coyle is a little more extraverted and wild than coach Cabrera, which was very amusing during preseason.
Q: It's still early in the season but how do you think the club has played thus far? How would you rate your personal performance as well?
Casner: I think the team has played to a decent level of our own capabilities. It is clear that there is plenty of raw talent within the group to be a dominant team with an attractive, effective style of soccer. The clearest part about the team's play however has been the consistent improvement. As for myself, I would say it's a bit too early to grade my performance as a whole, but I can say that I am adapting to Wilmer Cabrera's coaching style and system well. I think that a few things clicked for me in Seattle and Salt Lake, so I hope to keep improving there.
Q: How excited are you to reunite with former Clemson teammate Kyle Murphy on the Toros?
Casner: I was very excited the day he signed. I went through all 4 years of Clemson with him, and that definitely brings some chemistry to the field.
Q: Speaking of Clemson, Do you think Deshaun Watson and the Tigers make it back to the College Football Playoff in 2017?
Casner: I think they should, but whether they will is a huge question mark (plus I’m not an analyst and don’t know much about football). They have the talent, and Dabo Swinney has turned that talent into a systematically elite program for the last few years.
However what I can tell you is that my Clemson boys will definitely have a shot at making it back to the College Cup this fall, as Coach Noonan has been making the same strides with the soccer program over the last several years. I cannot say enough good things about Coach Noonan and I know that he’ll have the team prepared to be great again this year. Either way Go Tigers!
Q: You're from Irvine, California with long, wavy blonde hair, is it fair to assume you surf?
Casner: Of course it’s a fair guess but I actually cannot surf and never have!