WASHINGTON – Young players need to play. Also sometimes, young players need to not play.
D.C. United’s Chris Durkin has experienced both during his first year-plus in the mix with the first team, occupying a starting role for much of the first half of the 2018 season, then seeing his time in midfield diminish as Russell Canouse returned to full health.
And for the 19-year-old Homegrown Player signing, who enters Sunday’s tilt against New York City FC (4 pm ET | ESPN, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada) on the heels of his first professional goal in last weekend's 3-2 win at the Colorado Rapids, the time on the bench was as valuable as the time on the pitch.
“This has been the most important lesson of my career so far, which is to remain professional and positive and always ready when your name is called,” the holding midfielder told MLSsoccer.com Wednesday. “I’m proud with how I’ve done it so far, and I’ll continue to remain professional and give everything I have to the team.”
Of Durkin’s 16 starts last year, 12 came before the beginning of August, when the return of Canouse and goalkeeper Bill Hamid to supplement the July arrival of Wayne Rooney helped propel United to the postseason.
Since, most of Durkin’s press clippings have involved European transfer speculation, with the US youth international linked particularly to top-flight sides in Germany and Portugal.
“It’s definitely exciting,” said Durkin, who will likely encounter more chatter with the US contingent at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland. “It also tells me that what I’m doing is good. But I want to keep improving and keep growing and keep having an impact on the field.”
After making three late cameos earlier this season, Durkin got the nod over Canouse at the end of D.C.’s first Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday stretch of the season. He made the best of it, scoring a 38th-minute go-ahead goal.
While Durkin is sometimes projected by outsiders as a player who may transition to center beck, he remained in his midfield role even as Ben Olsen made a rare tactical switch to a three-back set. Durkin also said he’s remained exclusively in the midfield during his training sessions this season.
“I think ‘wrecking ball’ is, I wouldn’t call him that,” Olsen said Wednesday when asked to characterize the teenager. “He can be that type of player. I think that’s underselling him a little bit. I think his range of passing is really good. He’s definitely a heavier tackling player in there. But offensively, I think he has a pretty good understanding of the game.”
Olsen declined to hint whether Durkin’s start had earned him another, but made no secret D.C. want to hold onto him as long as they can.
“Each game he’s more a part of what we’re doing here, and we like how he’s progressing,” Olsen said. “Every weekend he’s going to be in the mix. Whether it’s to start or help this team."