HARRISON, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls’ starting right back spot seems to be wide open at the moment, and rookie Chris Duvall appears to be a serious candidate to fill its vacancy.
Duvall was the player head coach Mike Petke surprisingly turned to at halftime of the Red Bulls' 2-0 loss vs. Toronto FC this past weekend after starter Kosuke Kimura endured a rough first half. Petke could opt to go that route again at the start of Saturday’s home game vs. the Portland Timbers (7 pm ET; MLS Live) after seeing both Kimura and Richard Eckersley endure their share of struggles this season.
Eckersley was the starter at the position at the beginning of the year, but some uneven performances and an injury saw him lose the spot to Kimura. The Japanese fullback proceeded to play well in Eckersley’s absence, but struggled in a 5-4 loss vs. the Chicago Fire on May 10 before delivering a subpar outing vs. Toronto that forced Petke into making a rare halftime substitution last Saturday.
All that, combined with the Red Bulls coaching staff’s high praise of Duvall all season, has the 22-year-old Wake Forest product seeming like a serious possibility to start against Portland, something Petke would not rule out earlier this week and something Duvall is hoping for after making his pro debut at BMO Field.
“When you come in as a rookie, you’re just hoping to fight for any minute you can get and to prove yourself,” Duvall told MLSsoccer.com. “Of course, this is the dream, to hopefully have the opportunity to fight for a starting spot. In the back of your head you always want to know that you’re capable. This is an opportunity I’ve always worked for.”
Duvall being picked over the now-healthy Eckersley at the start of the second half in Toronto was a bit eye-opening, but the Red Bulls players have been saying for weeks now that Duvall has been performing very well in training. They were also impressed with his debut, especially given that it came under tough circumstances on the road against a talented Toronto FC squad.
“Chris, I thought did very well considering the situation away and in a tough venue,” said goalkeeper Luis Robles. “Not exactly the best debut situation to come into, but I felt like for the 45 minutes he did very well.”
Duvall had some rough touches in the early parts of his cameo, but he settled in and showed that he can do what Petke wants tactically from his fullbacks by jumping into the attack on occasion. The youngster, however, knows he still has plenty to prove on both sides of the ball to keep earning more minutes.
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“First and foremost, I’m a defender, so I’ve got to take care of my defensive duties and make sure we don’t get scored on, make sure we don’t give up any opportunities,” said Duvall. “In the attack, that’s where [Petke] kind of lets us express ourselves and if it’s on I have the freedom to go. But I’ve got to play defense first and concentrate on my one-v-one first.”
Duvall’s next chance to showcase that could come on Saturday against a hungry Portland team that is searching for points. That would be another challenging task for Duvall, but he said he is ready to go if his number is called once again.
“My whole goal is to just have fun and play my game, not try to do anything that I don’t usually do,” said Duvall. “I think in that respect, I did well. Hopefully if I get another opportunity, I’ll be able to build on that.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.