By Noah Davis
New Jersey, I think, gets a bad rap. Our rhetoric revolves around the endless tolls on the Turnpike, the seediness of Atlantic City, and choice of Teaneck native-turned-Italian heartthrob Giuseppe Rossi, while ignoring the subtler pleasures the Garden State offers: Beers named for Turnpike exits. Beaches that aren't on "The Shore." Montville's Dilaver "Dilly" Duka.
The midfielder was a relative unknown on the international scene until a standout sophomore season at Rutgers lead to a call up with the United States squad that played in the U-20 CONCACAF Championships held in Trinidad and Tobago. On a team loaded with offensive talent including Club Brugge's Jared Jeffrey, Hertha Berlin's Bryan Arguez, Houston Dynamo's Danny Cruz, and FC Dallas' Brek Shea, Duka was arguably the most dangerous scoring threat. He tallied a goal in squad's first match, set up another (and nearly a third), and helped the American side qualify for this fall's U-20 World Cup.
Not bad for a player getting his first cap in the Red, White, and Blue.
"The U20 CONCACAF tournament was the biggest stage of soccer I ever competed in," Duka e-mailed Goal.com. "Throughout the two weeks of preparations before the actual tournament I was nervous. This was all new to me. It wasn't until I completed my first pass in my first capped match with the team, until I became comfortable and played with confidence."
After returning stateside, Duka has continued to train in hopes of traveling to Egypt with the U.S. team for the World Cup. He's a product of the New York Red Bulls academy and recently joined the first team for a brief spell.
"When I was called to train with the first team, I was excited. I knew that this is the best opportunity to see how I fare with quality established players," he says. "I only got to train twice with the team this past week. I thought I played well; I just kept it simple."
While the Red Bulls might be hoping to sign Duka to a Generation adidas contract (Major League Soccer teams can now sign two players instead of one), RBNY technical director Jeff Agoos could have competition from abroad. While Anderlecht was rumored to be interested in the midfielder before the CONCACAF tournament ("That's just a rumor," Duka says) his stellar performance in T and T drew eyes from the international community.
"I actually trained with a couple teams in Europe right after qualifiers, just to get the feel for the soccer over there, but with no intentions of signing with any clubs," he says.
While Duka coyly declines to mention specific teams, he said he attended "multiple league games" and noticed "how amazing the atmosphere is in the stadiums, which shows how important and greatly appreciated the clubs are to their supporters and cities."
Although Duka said he plans to rejoin the Scarlet Knights after the World Cup, he clearly has bigger things on his mind. "Returning to Rutgers is a possibility," the five foot nine inch prospect says. "But my goal right now is to be on the U.S. U-20 World Cup roster. Nothing is set in stone and so all I'm thinking about is our next U-20 camp on May 23rd and how I need to compete for a spot on that roster come September."
When asked if he'd choose the Red Bulls of Anderlecht, Duka toes a sensible line. "Wherever I can see myself getting the most playing time is the option I'll take, if I had both options," he says. "I believe that's the only way to grow as a player, a club where you can get the most game time experience, off the bat."
Wherever Dilly ends up, his home state can be proud of one more export.
Noah Davis covers the United States Men's National Team for Goal.com