OBETZ, Ohio — When Columbus Crew midfielder Dilly Duka debuted his new-look shaved head two weeks ago, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was a symbolic break from his injury-filled past.
But the truth is much simpler than that.
“It was so hot,” Duka said. “I was coming back to training. I was getting so [peeved] doing my hair.”
Still, a fresh start would be good for Duka, who has missed nine of 17 games this season while battling through left hamstring injuries that started only 12 minutes into the regular season on March 10.
He missed five of the next six games, returned for three then reinjured the same leg and sat three more games. Although he has come off the bench the past two matches, he has a total of 234 minutes with one assist.
“Now, I’m learning my lessons from the past that I should definitely take it easier in training throughout the week so I’m fresher and ready for the weekend,” the third-year player said.
His new philosophy may not always jibe with that of head coach Robert Warzycha, who expects his players to go all out all the time during practices.
“I like players that are giving everything everyday and then he’ll play the game,” Warzycha said. “But if he’s doing that he’s smart enough to do it.”
The coach somewhat agrees that Duka should concentrate his efforts to avoid further damage to his hamstring.
“He’s a young player and he got injured for a long, long time so before he finds out what’s best for him it’s going to take time,” Warzycha said. “I don’t think he’s not going to fight for 50-50s. I don’t think he’s going to let the defender go. That’s a simple thing that with his competiveness he can’t help it, but maybe he’s not going to do the extra running or extra other stuff he used to do after training.”
Duka admits he is trying to dial back his aggressiveness in practice to save it for the games.
“I’m using a different method to protect me; playing smarter, quicker and not really holding the ball and doing my own individual-flair thing,” he said. “It’s still so early. I hope it works.”
The Crew (6-7-4) could certainly use his creativity. He provided a boost to the attack last Saturday in his 28 minutes but they were still unable to score in a 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City.
“I really wanted to jump into that game,” he said. “I didn’t want to play good for myself. I really wanted to help the team.”
And there’s no doubt that, if his new practice method succeeds in keeping him healthy, he thinks he can help Columbus get on track.
“When I am fit I should be considered in the [starting] 11,” Duka said.