The season 2003/2004 was a break out season for both Conor Casey and Mainz 05. Casey scored 14 goals for the 2Bundesliga side Karlsruher SC, while Mainz finally made it to the pinnacle of German soccer after a series of near misses.
And it was Casey's goal on the last week of the season against Bundesliga hopefuls Alemannia Aachen that at the same time saved Karlsruhe from relegation and secured Mainz the final promotion spot.
To bring the story full circle, Casey, when looking to make the jump to the Bundesliga himself, chose Mainz as his next destination. Ultimately selecting Mainz over other offers, he pointed to a sense of belonging as well his first impressions of his now head coach Jürgen Klopp.
"I scored the goal in the second division and that goal was part of the whole [Mainz] story. I felt a part of them getting promoted. I felt like I played a role as well," Casey conceded. "It was fate - sort of. But I wouldn't go so far as to say that."
"The coach made a lot of effort in bringing me over. In the summertime he stayed in touch. In the end, I was happy with the decision I made."
In the meantime, the small club in the shadow of next door neighbor Frankfurt has replaced SC Freiburg as the darlings of the league, but the Mardi Gras boys haven't been able to solidify their position in the first division.
As with many small clubs who make the unexpected jump up to top-flight soccer, gritty play will only work for so long before the lack of goals starts to catch up. With five games left in the season, the once seemingly insurmountable cushion between the safety of mid-table and the relegation zone has been reduced to two points.
Casey, who has only one goal this season, knows first hand what it is like to wonder when the next goal is going to fall.
His last chance came on Saturday against Borussia Mönchengladbach, when fellow national team teammate Kasey Keller was able to make a fine kick-save to keep the seemingly sure goal out of the net. Though the Mainz system isn't necessarily focused on a center forward - a fact that Casey acknowledges - he refuses to use it an excuse.
"This year definitely hasn't gone well for me personally in terms of the goals I set", the New Hampshire-born striker says. "But that's just kind of been the way that it has been, and I'll just try to keep working and hopefully the goals will come."
"The forwards don't really have a lot of chances. I might only have one chance per game, but you also have to do a better job of using those chances."
Casey came to Germany four years ago when one of Germany's most successful clubs Borussia Dortmund came calling and convinced him to leave the University of Portland early. Like Steve Cherundolo before him and recent Pilot alum Heath Pearce, the move was the first step in fulfilling a dream of playing in Europe.
"The offer was there from Dortmund and I was definitely planning on going. At that point it was kind of an easy decision. I knew I wanted to go and Dortmund had a big name. I was pretty excited."
Of course playing domestically entered his mind, but the dream of playing in Europe outweighed any inkling he had to stay home.
"Yes and no", he answered when confronted with whether he had considered playing for MLS. "It's great that we have a league and it's doing really well, but four years ago, I really wanted to go and play in the European environment. As soon as the offer came, the decision was pretty much made for me."
However, Casey doesn't necessarily subscribe to the opinion that playing abroad is what every young American should do, while at the same time, pointing out a key difference between youth development in Europe vs. the US.
"I think it's different for everybody", he replied objectively. "There are a lot of players who stay in the states that are very, very good players, and there are a lot players who come here and do the same. I think it just depends on the person."
"I think when you grow up here from a very young age, say from 14 or 15, I think it would probably be more beneficial because they have the atmosphere of everyday training. When I was 13 or 14 I was training with a team three times a week and here you have it everyday."
Since his arrival in Germany at age 19, Casey has played for four different clubs - all of which he says have added to his development.
"Each time I moved was for certain reasons that I thought would bring me further. And I think it has worked out well," the 23-year old claims. "In Dortmund I hoped to play there, but after about a half a year I realized that wouldn't be the case, so I went to Hannover to try to get some playing time. And that went well."
"We got promoted that year. But I was hurt the first half of the season, the next year when we went up to the first division and when I got fit I didn't play, so it was important that I played again.
"So I went to Karlsruhe to play. We just barely escaped relegation on the last weekend. But I got to build up some confidence, scored some goals, and now I am here."
what is most noticeable about the current season in Mainz, however, is his inability to put the ball in the back of the net.
His last goal came in October, and after two mediocre World Cup qualifying performances against El Salvador and Panama in September, he has seemingly been forgotten by Bruce Arena. This fact isn't lost on Casey.
"I think I have played I don't know how many games, something like 25, and have one goal scored. But I have to keeping trying to do my best and hopefully I'll be lucky enough to play for the national team again."
"I'm really just trying to concentrate on the next six weeks here and make sure we don't get relegated. And do my best here and see if the national team coach is interested in having me."
His next chance to do his best comes this Saturday against Hannover and buddy Cherundolo. And with his mother in also in town from the US, Casey will be hoping to help Mainz stay up like he helped the club on the Rhine go up almost 12 months ago.
As many soccer fans all over Germany have discovered this year, it is hard not to pull for both.