If playing midfield is about becoming a master of timing, then one could easily say the Columbus Crew's Dilly Duka is enjoying a most ideal offseason.
Having come from the US Under-23 camp, the New Jersey native is now working out with his Generation adidas tour teammates at the vaunted Ajax youth academy. When informed he would be joining the trip to Amsterdam, he instantly knew two things, perhaps the most obvious being a chance to learn directly from the masters of 4-3-3, the official new set of the US national team.
But with training done on this particular Wednesday, the 22-year-old is most focused on the second bonus: The tour just happened to coincide with Ajax hosting a Champions League match against Real Madrid.
"It's perfect," Duka told MLSsoccer.com with a grin. "Before coming on this trip, I was telling friends and family that I had to catch this game. A lot of people are jealous. I'm just excited to have a ticket."
Actually, he and his GA teammates are holding tickets to the full Ajax experience. After learning from the coaches and taking in the first team as house spectator, the GA crew will square off against the second team in a Thursday morning friendly.
This is Duka's second GA tour, after he was selected last year for the team's wildly successful trip to Spain.
"I think I'm going to learn a lot from this," Duka said. "In the game with Ajax, I can look at how their players move and whatnot. Hopefully, with the Olympic team, I will have picked up little things that I can use to my advantage."
Whatever tips he gathers in Amsterdam will be directly put to use in the next Olympic camp. Duka shined during the Duisburg gathering last month, which saw him start in a friendly draw against Bayer Leverkusen's reserve team.
"Going in, I was just excited to be there and do anything I could to showcase myself,” he said. "It was a positive outcome from that camp, because I got invited to the next one."
Caleb Porter will be at the helm of the forthcoming camp, but in Duisburg, the Crew's rising star had the distinct midfielder's pleasure of learning under US Soccer youth technical director Claudio Reyna and U-20 boss Tab Ramos.
"I have a lot of respect for Tab and Claudio," Duka said. "I'd never met them, but I followed Claudio and with Tab, I was a big fan of the MetroStars. It was interesting to see what type of people they were. I took a lot out of that camp."
Education has been a personal theme in 2011, with experiences at Olympic and Generation adidas camps coming on the heels of a breakout season in MLS. After playing just three matches the previous year, Duka worked 22 last season. Along the way, he's increasingly drawn raves for his play and become comfy as a pro athlete.
"I got a good amount of playing time, which I didn't get my first actual season there," he said. "I now know what it feels like to be one of the guys they rely on trying to get wins. The experience meant something. Being a part of a team, that's something I hadn't felt since college. It makes every day worthwhile."
Since signing for the Crew, Duka has had some transfer interest out of Belgium, Switzerland and Spain, the latter spawned from good showings on last year's Generation adidas tour.
"It's good that teams are watching me," stated Duka. "It means I'm doing something right. But I'm just focused on next year. After this offseason, I'll definitely be more prepared for next year and, hopefully, more successful."