As best as he can remember, New York Red Bulls’ Chris Duvall has never started a competitive match as a center back. That could very well change this Saturday night when one of MLS’s best young outside backs might be asked to slide into a central defender’s role.
With the Red Bulls down Ronald Zubar and Gideon Baah due to hamstring injuries, head coach Jesse Marsch turned to left backKemar Lawrence last week to get the start at central defense. Lawrence left Friday night’s 1-0 loss to the New England Revolutionwith a knee ligament strain. It was Duvall who came into the final 25 minutes of the match to spell Lawrence and it appears likely that Duvall will get the nod Saturday night at Red Bull Arena against Sporting Kansas City (6:30 PM, MSG2).
Duvall, in his third year in MLS, has made 35 appearances in league play. None of them have come in central defense until last week’s emergency role for Lawrence.
While at Wake Forest, he would occasionally play center back late in a match when needed. With the Red Bulls in training, Duvall would also fill in at center back. But as for starting and going 90 minutes at the position, Duvall has never done that – not even in youth soccer. Duvall, along with teammate Karl Ouimette, will be the center of the back four as they look to slow down Dom Dwyer, one of the league’s top scorers.
“It’s interesting. With a guy like Dom Dwyer up front, he rushes the physical battle. It’s about me and Karl communicating and choosing our times when to be physical with him, assert our presence, and when to be clever and drop off,” Duvall said.
“I think we have a good handle of that from practice, we’ve built a good relationship. I think it should be a fun challenge for us.”
Dwyer scored a combined 34 goals the past two seasons and already has two goals in four matches this year.
But beyond a challenge in terms of a position change, Saturday night would also be the return of Duvall to Red Bull Arena for the first time since last summer. A broken leg injury in the US Open Cup cut short a season where he had solidified himself as the Red Bulls starting right back under Marsch.
A potential start on Saturday night would be his first since June 28.
“We know it is out of Chris’ comfort zone to play center back, but we know he has a lot of good qualities to play there. Clearly it will be a big project for him tomorrow,” Marsch said after Friday’s training session.
“What you like about Chris is that he is going to step on the field and give everything he can. I told him that he will go out there and make mistakes – but who cares? It’s important for him to go out on the field and have confidence, have clarity and play in a good way.”
“He’ll be up for it.”