The goals have certainly been welcome, but Conor Casey has brought much more to the Union this season after being acquired in January from the Colorado Rapids.

Casey was the Rapids' career goal-scoring leader with 50, so his ability to put the ball in the back of the net was well-documented. After not being 100 percent the last two years with an Achilles tendon injury, he has been healthy for the Union, and so has their offense.

The fact that Casey has nine goals is a major reason the Union are 10-7-7 and trail first-place Sporting Kansas City by two points and the second-place New York Red Bulls by a point in Major League Soccer's balanced Eastern Conference.

The Union, who will visit the Red Bulls on Saturday, have already matched last season's win total and have scored 36 goals, or one less than they earned in 34 games last season.

Casey's addition coincides with that improvement.

Besides the goals, he has provided a level of toughness, and his most important trait may be his ability to keep possession.

With great strength, Casey shields defenders, making it difficult for them to steal the ball. He is patient and often waits until teammates get open before dishing the ball off.

He is far from flashy or quick, but a player who doesn't lose the ball is a valuable one.

"I know I can find him well in the middle of the field because he is a good point man to give the ball to and run off him," midfielder Sebastien Le Toux said.

Le Toux leads MLS with 12 assists and says the space Casey has created has been invaluable.

"He makes it easier for me because I am not afraid to pass to him, and he can play with his back to the goal," Le Toux said. "He draws defenders and is able to find open players."

In the beginning of the season the Union were carried by all-star Jack McInerney. He has 10 goals but hasn't scored in his last seven games while also missing three others because of his involvement with the U.S. Gold Cup team.

McInerney does more than score goals, and he has opened space for his teammates because of the defensive attention he's attracting.

Casey, who has four assists, also occupies his share of space, giving teammates more room to maneuver.

After being limited to 32 games the last two seasons, even a player as accomplished as Casey had to regain not only his form but also his confidence.

"I think getting routine minutes and getting the confidence of your teammates and being able to put the ball away leads to playing with more confidence," Casey said.

The 32-year-old Casey has appeared stronger as the season has progressed.

He's not going to win many foot races, but knowing how to play the game and where to be is a main reason for his effectiveness. And, as it turns out, that of his new team.

Contact Marc Narducci at mnarducci@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @sjnard.