OBETZ, Ohio – Dilly Duka had as much trouble getting on the field during his rookie season as he did finding a thick, rich pizza in Columbus that matched that of his native New Jersey.
The search for a satisfying slice of pie continues, but the Generation Adidas midfielder earned the start in the season opener at D.C. United last Saturday after seeing only 160 minutes of MLS play last year, including two starts.
“I thought I had a good preseason,” the 21-year-old from Montville, N.J., said. “Whether I’m playing games or not, I’m young and I’ll cheat myself if I’m not working really hard every day because I can grow as a player.”
He wasn’t shy in letting the media know last year he was unhappy with the lack of playing time and the coaching staff had to remind him at times to stay focused. His improved attitude is due in part to the offseason turnover that has created opportunities for him.
“We lost big names,” he said. “This year, my mentality was to come in and hard work, and if I’m doing well, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be part of the mix.”
His start at DC caught some by surprise, especially since he usurped US midfielder Robbie Rogers on the left flank. Rogers had two goals in the past two regular seasons, but head coach Robert Warzycha had liked the defensive efforts he gave. That wasn’t enough for the first match.
“There is a competition,” Warzycha said. “If the guy is playing better, he has to be on the field. That’s why it happens. It happens to anybody, not only to Robbie. Dilly performed better. They both performed, but it’s for me to choose the guy at the moment who is a better fit for the team.”
The change didn’t sit well with Rogers. He told reporters Tuesday he was upset and didn’t want to make comments that would create controversy as he politely declined to be interviewed. That was left to Warzycha.
“He started almost every single game the last four years,” the coach said of Rogers. “So, with one game all of a sudden everything changed? I don’t know, either. It’s up to Robbie. It’s not up to me. I’m coaching and I have a position where I can choose from 30 players. If you are happy you are not starting, this is wrong. Absolutely he is disappointed.”
Warzycha was pleased the way Rogers responded to the benching after replacing Duka in 66th minute. Rogers scored 13 minutes later on a penalty in the 3-1 loss.
“It says a lot,” Warzycha said. “He went for the ball and took it and scored. He had the guts to do that. Good for him. If Jeff [Cunningham] was on the field, he probably would have taken it. But Robbie was decisive. He got the ball and believed he would score and did it. There’s nothing wrong with that.”