Duka was easily the oldest player of the group still left on the field after training, but showed a willingness to put in extra work to stake his claim to a regular spot with his new team.
Signed last month as a free agent after being released by Columbus Crew SC, Duka has seen plenty of highs and lows during his eight years in MLS. This year was certainly a difficult one for him in Columbus. The midfielder made just one first team appearance in the US Open Cup.
Now, after trialing with the Red Bulls and signing in August, Duka is keen to make a move into becoming a factor for his new club down the stretch run. Set to turn 28-years old this week, his move to the Red Bulls comes as eye-opening as he’s learning a whole new system and style of play.
One that is radically different than anything he’s ever experienced.
In his four previous stops in MLS, Duka has never played with a team that utilizes an exhausting high-press and requires such an extensive work rate as head coach Jesse Marsch demands here in New York. That leads him to work after training with a number of the younger players such as Derrick Etienne and Arun Basuljevic on drills so he can raise his fitness and sharpness.
“Obviously they have different tactics, philosophy,” Duka said. “I’m definitely keeping at it, Jesse has been around for two, three years here. You have a lot of players who are here two, three years here. Obviously, they are ahead when it comes to adapting. I’m immersing in it, trying to absorb everything every day.
“The training sessions here are harder than any other club I’ve played for. You have three hard sessions here that are very hard and I think if you come in every day and give 100 percent, then games on the weekend will be a lot easier than training.”
His Columbus experience now behind him, Duka refuses to look back.
“There’s no reason to compare because I’m looking forward to what’s now. I’m happy to be here.”
And the Red Bulls, in turn, seem to be happy with their most recent signing.
Duka already has two appearances and one start during his short stint with the club. He provides depth in the midfield, whether it’d be on the wing or in the center of the park.
“It’s been an adjustment for him but I think he’s done a good job,” Marsch said. “He’s been committed in all the right ways. It’s just now about continuing to refine his habits so that they integrate the right way. His mentality to be here, to be part of this, to work every day has been fantastic which is what we really got excited about in getting him here.”
“We have to continue to see how he fits moving forward and I think certainly in this stretch where we have to call on a lot of different guys, we need him to be at his best and fully understand how to play with us. But I have confidence in him.”
In training on Wednesday, Duka was part of a scrimmage between the first and second team. During one sequence, he dribbled through several midfielders to go at the Red Bulls backline, using a step over before his pass to a teammate was deflected. There is clear comfort for him on the ball and taking players on via the dribble, something this team can certainly use.
It is a homecoming for Duka after he wanted to play for the Red Bulls following the conclusion of his college career.
A native of the quaint Morris County town of Montville, Duka played his college soccer at Rutgers before entering MLS in 2010. This was a time in MLS before Homegrown signings and despite having been a member of the Red Bulls Academy, Duka had to enter the draft.
Had he come out of college one year later, he likely would have been signed as a Homegrown player. Such is the life and times of MLS.
Now he’s finally back with the Red Bulls and hoping to make an impact as the club makes a push for the playoffs. He’s at home, happy and thrilled to be playing for a head coach in Marsch that he simply raves about.
“There’s a lot of academy coaches that are still around from when I played with them. So it’s nice to see some friendly, familiar faces when I’m training with the first team,” Duka said.
“I think it was just a year or two early. Everything happens for a reason, I’m glad to be here now.
“I remember back in 2009 when I was talking with Red Bull [Sporting Director] Jeff Agoos was there at the time. Now that I’m able to sign here with Jesse, I’m really excited.”