Harrison, N.J. – Sitting in front of his locker at Red Bull Arena Sunday afternoon, Kyle Duncan’s grin was ear to ear, and why not? The 22 year-old fullback had just completed his best game as a professional soccer player, scoring one goal and adding a pair of assists to spark his team to a 3-2 season opening victory over FC Cincinnati.
Olympics in Duncan’s Future?
Sunday’s performance capped a week that saw Duncan named to the 50-man provision roster for the U.S. U23 team that will attempt to navigate a difficult group at the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament. The qualifier begins on March 20 when the Young Yanks face Costa Rica. The Americans will also face Mexico on March 26 and the Dominican Republic on the 23rd.
The U.S. has not qualified for the two most recent Olympics, so the challenge is not be underestimated.
More than Weah’s Cousin
But on Sunday the native New Yorker, previously best known as Tim Weah’s cousin, wasn’t thinking about Guadalajara, Mexico, where the Qualifiers will be held, or even Tokyo, Japan, site of the 2020 Olympiad. Instead, Duncan just grinned up at the pack of soccer journalists hovering above him and said, “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now. I’m happy to be with the Red Bulls, happy to go out there with them.”
Duncan’s contentment is easily understood as he begins the third season of his Red Bulls career healthy and firmly established as the team’s starting right fullback. This is a significant step for Duncan who has seen injuries hamper his first two years with the Bulls. Duncan signed with the Red Bulls in March 2018 after beginning his career with Valenciennes U19, a Ligue 2 French club.
Duncan was immediately thrust into the starting 11 by then-coach Jesse Marsch, earning four starts before suffering a season ending injury on March 31, 2018.
In Duncan’s absence, the Red Bulls defense established itself as the league’s best with Michael Amir Murillo nailing down the right fullback/wingback position on the Supporters Shield winning side.
Chances Missed and Grabbed
But player’s with Duncan’s physical gifts will always be given opportunities and Duncan’s tools are readily apparent. Listen to current Red Bulls boss Chris Armas talking about Duncan following Sunday’s win. “We know that Kyle Duncan glides around the field,” Armas said, adding, “he can get up and down the field differently than most of our guys.”
So, when the Red Bulls struggled out of the gate in 2019, due in part to poor play from Murillo and the team’s defense, those opportunities came Duncan’s way. Opportunities that he initially failed to grasp due to inconsistent play. But with Murillo firmly ensconced in Armas’ doghouse opportunity would knock a second time and this time Duncan answered, earning several consecutive starts before being derailed by a hamstring injury suffered on the eve of the playoffs.
Minus Duncan, the Red Bulls dropped a playoff thriller in Philadelphia and when Murillo decamped to Anderlecht in the offseason, Duncan was next in line for the position. New York then released Reece Buckmaster and brought in 22 year old former England youth international Mandela Egbo to compete for the spot, but the job was clearly Duncan’s to lose.
Duncan’s goal on Sunday came as he cut in from wide right having outrun the Cincinnati defense. The fullback had missed two similar chances before opening the scoring in the 16th minute with a powerful finish off of a fine set up from Florian Valot, and High Press Soccer asked Duncan those early misses.
“I knew there would be other chances because I kept getting forward. Luckily my teammates saw me to give me the pass, and I ended up scoring a goal.”
In his postgame comments, Armas said of Duncan, “I think the thing we’re seeing this year, more than before, is just a real consistency and self-belief.”
Will Duncan’s new found consistency coupled with his goal-scoring threat earn Duncan a spot on the U.S. U23 Olympic Qualifying team to be announced March 10?
Olympics – Out of His Hands
High Press Soccer asked Duncan if consistent playing time with New York can give his U23 aspirations a boost? “Yeah,” Duncan responded, “but I’m more focused on just being here right now. If the U23s call me then it will be Red Bulls choice to let me go but right now I’m focused on here.”