On the eve of the US under-20's opening CONCACAF championship match against Jamaica, Goal.com's Noah Davis profiles Rutgers University player Dilly Duka.
By Noah Davis
When United States U-20 coach Thomas Rongen announced the 26 players who would train in advance of the CONCACAF Championship that doubles as qualifying for the 2009 U-20 World Cup, one consensus around U.S. soccer fans was pretty much unanimous. Dilly Duka? Who? Is that even a real name?
It's understandable that followers of the American National Team and its youth sides hadn't heard of Rutgers sophomore Duliver "Dilly" Duka. After all, any playing time he sees in Trinidad and Tobago -- Duka made the 20-man roster for the tournament, which begins on Friday; the US face Jamaica in their first game -- will be his first wearing the Stars and Stripes.
In fact, even the teenager was shocked to receive an invitation to the camp. "I was very surprised that I was called in," he told Goal.com in an email. "I thought that if a player was not in the U.S national team youth system, they would not get a call into a U-20 camp."
For the lightning quick midfielder, it's been a rapid ascent to his current place aside some of the U.S.'s most promising football prospects. The five-foot, nine-inch player shot into the college spotlight during his freshman year when he started 18 of his Scarlet Knights' 19 matches, netting two goals and registering four assists.
The 19-year-old has shown a knack for the spotlight. Both tallies he during his first season in Piscataway were game-winners (in back-to-back matches, no less), and he scored twice in Rutgers' upset win against then-No. 6 U.C. Santa Barbara during his sophomore campaign.
On the U.S. squad, Duka joins a midfield that includes standouts such as Club Brugge's Jared Jeffrey, Hertha Berlin's Bryan Arguez, Houston Dynamo's Danny Cruz, and FC Dallas' Brek Shea, but Rongen thinks the new guy could play a key role during qualifying.
"There are a lot who could really contribute to this team, be it a Tony Taylor, from the University of Jacksonville, Dilly Duka, from Rutgers, who aren't necessarily household names who could play significant roles for us in qualifying," the coach told Goal.com before the tournament began.
For now, however, the budding star is content to hang out and train with his new teammates in the perfect beach setting. "The best part of camp is our morning sessions on the beach outside our resort in Tobago," Duka explained. "At first, we'd get a good jog in, then we'd all jump into the ocean and try to ride waves. It's very relaxing."
Life could become a bit more complicated soon, especially if he has a solid performance over the next week. Recently, Duka has drawn interest from clubs around the world. Rumors persist that Belgian side Anderlecht are interested, however, the Rutgers phenom wrote Goal.com that he hadn't "heard anything about that." Still, he'd like to play soccer in Europe at some point.
"My ultimate goal is to become a professional soccer player, and hopefully someday it happens," Duka wrote. "I am very happy at Rutgers and haven't thought about leaving, but in the near future who knows what might happen."
With a good showing in T&T, more clubs should come calling. If nothing else, once you learn his name, it's hard to forget.
Noah Davis covers the United States National Team for Goal.com.