DUKA AIMING HIGH WITH U23'S
As the US U-23 team looks to build on its first camp in the weeks and months ahead, one player who is likely to be part of the team moving forward is Columbus Crew midfielder Dilly Duka.
Duka, 22, came off an impressive showing for the US U-23 team in Germany. In the team's opening game against Bochum's reserve team, Duka scored in a 3-1 win. In the second game, he earned a start as they played to a 1-1 draw against Bayer Leverkusen's second team.
Duka has been playing for US Soccer since 2009 when he broke onto the scene for the US U-20 team after two standout seasons with Rutgers. He was part of the team that played in the U-20 World Cup in Egypt and even scored a goal in the tournament against Cameroon.
On the last game of the 2011 MLS season he and his teammate Rich Balchan found out that they were called into camp for the US U-23 team. Balchan was unable to go because of an injury but Duka was excited to get the call and rejoin a US team for the first time in two years.
"I found out on the last game of the season," Duka told YA. "Right after we found out, we were both excited. It's a good feeling to get called in and know that I am on their radar."
The US U-23 camp was run by US youth technical director Claudio Renya and U-20 head coach Tab Ramos. In the future, however, the U-23 team will be coached by Akron University's Caleb Porter who will take a more active role once the NCAA season is over.
The Montville, New Jersey native is excited for the opportunity to continue to impress under Porter.
"I don't know much about Caleb Porter," Duka explained. "I asked a bunch of the guys, and I haven't heard one negative thing about him. They say he's an awesome coach. He likes playing attractive soccer but he's also very intense."
After being drafted by Columbus Crew with the eight overall pick Duka did not see many minutes in his rookie season after playing in just three games.
This past season, however, Duka began to establish himself as a solid player in the league. He ended up playing in 22 games with 16 of the apperances coming as starts. He also scored two goals and picked up three assists in the season. Now moving into 2012 with both the Crew and the US U-23 team, he is confident for a big year ahead.
When Duka decided to turn professional following the U-20 World Cup in 2009, his decision of starting in MLS or moving abroad was not as clear.
He ended up signing with MLS under a Generation Adidas and is happy with how his career has progressed since then. Still, he does wonder what it would have been like if he had moved overseas initially.
"I think about that all the time," Duka admitted. "What if I would have went to Europe? I had one or two options. How would it have been different? Right now, I believe that MLS is a great starter league for young talent because a lot of teams try to play young guys.
"MLS was a great decision for me," he added. "It's the same for a lot of other young players. The coaches are trying to produce and develop young talent. Even on veteran teams, they are giving young players opportunities. It's awesome to see."
As for his future, Duka is ambitious and would like to play in the prestigious leagues of Europe at some point in his career but he is content with MLS. He insists that he will only make the move if the right offer comes,
"If the situation is right," Duka said about playing in Europe if the situation is right. "I always wanted to play in MLS [but] I definitely want to make the jump if the right opportunity is there. But is has to be the right situation and there are many factors. I do want play in different countries. Right now, I'm happy in MLS and I won't jump if it's not right.
As for his international future, Duka has options as well. Duka's mother was born in Belgium and his father was born in Albania. As a teenager, Duka trained with Albanian youth national teams and they were positive experiences.
Duka played for the US U-20 at the World Cup and would need to file his one-time switch if he were to play for Albania again in an official competition.
He is very happy to be with the US U-23 team moving forward and the US remains his top choice. Still he doesn't discount playing for Albania again if he falls out of favor with the United States.
"I've trained with Albanian youth teams," Duka concluded. "I was 15 at the time and I trained with the U-19 team. It's possible I could train with their youth teams again. Anything is possible. I grew up in this country and played for the U-20 [World Cup] team, so you can say the USA [is my first choice]. If the U-23's keep calling, I will keep accepting."