Can Air Force cadet juggle military duty, Sounders career?
If Seattle Sounders draftee Kevin Durr is going to make it as a professional in MLS, he's more than likely going to need to shoulder double duty.
The No. 16 overall pick in the 2013 MLS Supplemental Draft is still a cadet at the Air Force Academy and not only is he committed to finishing up his course work to graduate in May, but he also has long-term service commitments after he becomes an officer in the Air Force upon graduation.
That won't stop Durr from escaping for a few days in February to join the Sounders and prove his worth in Arizona. Seattle confirmed on Thursday that he will be joining the MLS club for a first look in mid-February, during the second week of their Desert Diamond Cup preseason camp in Tucson.
"I'll make it out to preseason for as many days as possible and allow them to get a good look at me and try to prove to them that I was worth a draft pick," Durr told MLSsoccer.com last week. "But I'm really, really fortunate and glad about the opportunity I'm given right now and I'll try to make the best of it.
"I'm not sure what days I'll be there [in Arizona], but hopefully it will be for some time," Durr continued. "I'm still responsible for the material I miss and the Academy is flexible with those sort of things and I'm sure we can work it out."
But if the box-to-box midfielder is going to have a future in rave green following the Arizona preseason spell, Durr and the Sounders will need to get very creative.
Although Air Force graduates get 60 days leave upon graduation, they are required to put in five years of active service after those 60 days are up. Durr already knows he will be an Acquisitions Officer (in essence, an Air Force project manager) at Peterson Air Force Base which is located close to the Air Force Academy in Colorado.
"There’s a discussion as to where he does the next part of his Air Force commitment because [the Air Force] can assign him to different places," Seattle manager Sigi Schmid said last week. "I think they have a program that takes into account if someone has a chance or has been drafted by a pro league. So we will find out all of those details.”
It turns out the Department of Defense has a policy allowing individuals to apply for postponement of their final three years of active service, only after they've served the first 24 months. There's one hitch: The remaining three years are doubled to six and served as reserve duty on a timetable that's established on a case-by-case basis.
NFL San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Chad Hall, a 2008 graduate of the Air Force Academy, invoked the policy after serving the mandatory two years and is now getting ready to play the Super Bowl on Sunday in New Orleans.
An Air Force spokesman told MLSsoccer.com that he was not aware of any athlete to emerge from the institution who has been able to bypass those first mandatory 24 months. The two years away from professional soccer could put a dent in Durr's professional aspirations, but the Air Force is known to work with individual athletes and there might be a way to make things work for Durr.
"I look forward to being part of the military," Durr said. "The Air Force has given me a lot. A four-year education. I know the Air Force tries to facilitate athletes and support them the best they can for people who have a shot to be professional. I'm really excited."
How did Durr get into this situation? He's a German-born son of a retired US Army colonel who was based mainly in Germany and Durr received his soccer formation at the Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich youth programs. That soccer upbringing helped him break into the USA Under-15 and Under-16 national team program.
But the demands of the Munich International School, which he attended alongside the son of US national team assistant Martin Vasquez when the latter served as an assistant at Bayern Munich, led Durr to set soccer aside and instead focus on school. He settled for playing with his local town club, Garmisch FC, while he was recruited by colleges in the US: Army, Air Force and other ACC and Colonial Athletic Association teams. Soccer was not a primary concern any more.
"I was impressed by everything going on in the Air Force Academy in general and thought it'd be a great opportunity and I don’t regret it," said Durr, who made it clear he wasn't planning on attending a military school until he met Air Force head coach Doug Hill. "I'm glad I did it and from there I thought soccer would take a back step. But it didn’t."
Durr's senior season with the Air Force soccer team is to blame for that. His five goals and five assists helped Air Force qualify to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1997 and put him on the MLS draft map. The Sounders took notice and called him into their Combine in December.
Then when the Sounders made him a first-round Supplemental Draft pick on January 22, Durr was in a meeting with his military squadron with no cell service. Two of his teammates broke the news to him and shortly after Durr was on the phone with the Sounders' Schmid, including exchanging a few words in German.
The prospect of playing for the Sounders, especially alongside designated player Christian Tiffert, a player he followed closely as a little kid in Germany, excites him. But how will he pull it off given the mandatory service requirements?
One possible scenario the Sounders and Durr might entertain: working on a potential relocation from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado to McChord Air Force Base in Seattle and create a schedule that allows him to practice with the Sounders.
If he sees MLS action, Durr would become the first player from one of the traditional military institutions to appear in the league. Rich Cullen and Marcus Sagastume were part of the Colorado Rapids organization, but never registered an official appearance.
Cullen, who was on the bench for eight league matches with the Rapids in 2000, actually served as a goalkeeper for the Sounders in their USL days while stationed for active duty at McChord Air Force Base.
"It was a sacrifice totally worth making," said Cullen, who today also runs the Washington Goalkeeping Academy. "When there were guys dodging bombs in the Afghanistan war, having to put 25,000 miles on my car every year to drive up to Seattle to play soccer and down to McChord was the least I could do. It was an absolute privilege and I'm so grateful that my commanders supported me."
If Durr impresses enough in Arizona with the Sounders, following in Cullen's footsteps could give him the best shot at juggling the military and professional soccer.
"I know the Air Force will try to support me," Durr said. "So there might be a possiblity of playing soccer and being part of the Air Force at the same time.
"I'll just see what the future holds," he continued. "In terms of soccer, of course it's exciting and I'll take whatever I can get, but I realize I am committed to the Air Force and proud to be part of it and serve my country."