OBETZ, Ohio – Last year was a lost year as far as Dilaver “Dilly” Duka was concerned.
The Crew’s first-round selection in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft spent the season wondering why he wasn’t playing, and without benefit of a reserve league, felt his time was wasted.
Although he had five combined starts in the Champions League and US Open Cup, he made just three appearances (two starts) in MLS play for a total of 160 minutes.
Those weren’t the kind of numbers expected for the former Rutgers and US Under-20 National Team midfielder.
“It was tough year,” he said. “You come off college as the man; national team you’re getting a lot of time and playing your position and kind of having a leadership role. Then you come to a team like this that’s had recent success...”
His voice trailed off. He didn’t have to say anymore because it was implied that Duka became a small fish in a big pond.
“Honestly, what you did at training didn’t really matter,” he said.
Duka, 21, was not only unhappy with how the season went but how he reacted to it.
“My mentality changed this year completely,” he said. “I didn’t want to psyche myself out. I wanted to be as positive as I could and work hard. I just want to get better.”
The results have been favorable. He’s equaled his starts from last season while appearing in all five matches.
His first career assist Saturday on Robbie Rogers’ goal helped the Crew (2-1-2) to a 1-0 victory against Sporting Kansas City and earned him a spot on the MLSsoccer.com Best XI for the week.
“He was a guy going into the season that was going to be hard to be left out of the 11,” goalkeeper William Hesmer said. “He had some chances to play in the 11, he didn’t really grab them at first, but you see now he’s becoming more and more comfortable.”
Duka provides creativity to an otherwise bland attack .
“He’s a very unique player with his quickness and things he can do with the ball,” defender Chad Marshall. “He gives us a new dynamic.”
The praise is meaningful for Duka.
“That’s important, especially from a guy like Chad,” he said. “He’s a big name in this league. Even though he’s not the coach, he has a lot of say as to what goes on [in the team]. You definitely want to get the respect of the veterans.”
Duka started the first match of the season against D.C. United but was a substitute the next three before coach Robert Warzycha reconfigured the attack to get him back in the opening lineup Saturday.
“He’s playing with so much confidence,” Eddie Gaven said of Duka. “We all know he has great feet and has so much skill on the ball. He has kind of an air about him a little bit that he’s going to go out and make a difference. That’s what he’s done.”