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Player spotlight

Durkin eager to get Euro career started with St. Truiden, eyes U.S. U-23s

Chris Durkin has been one of the most prominent U.S. youth internationals of his age group. Now the Richmond, VA native is looking to use the lessons he learned at the U-20 World Cup to get off to a strong start in his European career at St. Truiden and earn a spot on the U.S. U-23s. 

BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
September 24, 2019
3:00 PM
AS A YOUNG player, Chris Durkin has been one of the more visible American players of his generation. He was the captain of the 2017 U.S. U-17 World Cup team and was a starter on the 2019 U.S. U-20 World Cup team – which both advanced to the quarterfinals. On the club front, he saw occasional but irregular minutes for a D.C United that was playoff-caliber.

But as the summer transfer window drew to a close, Durkin earned a loan to St. Truiden – which currently sits in 10th place in Belgium’s top flight. That loan also included an option to buy of around $2.25 million – which is high for all but the very best teams in that league but could also be negotiated downward if there is interest.

Durkin, 18, spent the last few weeks getting acclimated into the team and made his club debut in Wednesday's 2-0 win over OH Leuven in the Belgian Cup. In the game, he came on in the 80th minute and went the remaining 40 minutes as St. Truiden won 2-0 in extra time.  Now he believes his league debut is approaching and this Saturday, St. Truiden hosts defending champions Genk.

This move to St. Truiden might technically be a loan but it is something that he definitely wants to make permanent and one which he hopes is just the first steps of his European career.

“I'm really excited and I have been wanting this for a long time,” Durkin told ASN. “I'm glad that everything worked out with both ends between the club here in Belgium and with D.C. United. I'm really trying to take full advantage of the opportunity here and bring the right mindset every training and also to have the mental strength. It's not always easy over here but I will continue to stay on the grind. My past couple of weeks here have been extremely positive and I really love the atmosphere and the vibe that I'm getting here in Europe.”

“I know that the option to buy price is maybe a little bit high for Belgian clubs but that's 100% my goal is to stay over here,” he added. “If that doesn't work out, I think I'd only become a better player coming back to D.C. United. But my goal right now is to prove to the coaching staff every day, and the general manager here that this is where I want to be and for them to hopefully extend that option to buy.”

Shortly before he arrived in Belgium, Durkin suffered an ankle injury in the opening minutes of DC United’s 5-1 loss to the Philadelphia Union. It was the first time he was ever injured in his career admits that the rehab process was the first time soccer “felt like a job” to him.

But soon after he healed, he secured the move to St. Truiden and in his first day there he was given the V02 Max test which he recorded one of the highest scores the club has ever seen. Following that, it was a matter of getting him involved into a team where he missed all of preseason.

“It's definitely a competitive group and there's some good players in this No. 6 position,” Durkin said. “I've been thrown around a little bit at centerback as well and they've seemed to like me there as well. So I'm just trying to be versatile here and whatever the coach needs. The coach here demands a lot. As long as I continue to progress, the coaches have been happy with steps that I've made.”

This is also the first time in Durkin’s career where he is adjusting to a foreign league at the first team level. There are specific differences that he has had have required him to make an adjustment, but some of these differences are specific to St. Truiden – which runs far more double sessions throughout the week than other clubs in the league.

“There's given takes to everything but the level might be around the same,” Durkin said while also pointing out he can’t say definitively since he has yet to play a game yet. “I think it's there's some similarities. I think the MLS might be a little bit more physical overall but there's still some guys that are extremely strong here. I think that the demand in terms of the running load here is extremely high. I think the team average for running in a game over here is over 11,000 meters a game.”

“I think there is a huge focus here on building out of the back and possession style base soccer,” he continued. “I know that in DC United we we're very focused on building out the back. But if it wasn't on, it wasn't on. But here it's more. So if there's no options to play out of the back, we're going to continue to move and continue to find open spaces until there is an option for us to play. So that's definitely a big difference and. I think that just for me there's just been a very high demand on my focus on every single pass - the weight of the pass and my movement off the ball.”

Life off the field is also taking time to adjust, although Durkin says he is not homesick. He has made friends with other young players who are new to team and training sessions are done in English, so it has been easy for him to communicate.

The most amusing aspect of his off-field life is that moving to Europe has forced him to learn to cook.

“I’m figuring out how to actually cook food,” Durkin said with a laugh. “People have cooked for my entire life so I'm making some pretty average dinners right now. My focus is on making better dinner.”

Durkin also believes that he is in the right place for his development because earlier in the summer he played for the U.S. U-20 team at the World Cup and while the team advanced to another respectable quarterfinal showing, he was not satisfied with his individual performances.

The U-20 World Cup was just a brief glimpse and many players who struggled in that tournament have gone on to have great careers. But Durkin instead wants to use that tournament as a learning experience and St. Truiden is specifically working with him on what that tournament revealed in where he needs to improve as a player.

“For me personally I think that it showed that I still need to grow in certain areas and I was aware that it wasn't the best tournament that I could have had,” Durkin said. “I think I could have done better and certain games and I thought I did really well in certain games. I definitely saw some of the areas that I needed to improve on. And the team here at St. Truiden is helping me with those right now. Being able to represent your country at any tournament is amazing. And yes, I think it was overall a very important learning experience and something that I'll never forget.”

Durkin said his big takeaways, and what he’s working on with St. Truiden, is being quicker on the ball in tight situations and awareness to check his shoulder. He is also working on his speed and agility and being faster in his first few steps.

With Durkin working hard to improve and develop, he hopes that it won’t be long before American fans see him again with the U.S. U-23 team as it prepares for Olympic qualifying in March. That team includes many players from the recent U-20 team as well as those two years old.

In Durkin’s No. 6 position on the U-23s, his main competition is Brandon Servania and Minnesota’s Hassani Dotson. Theoretically, Tyler Adams would also be age-eligible to play in the Olympics, although players of his caliber often faces issues with obtaining releases. Durkin, however, has the advantage of versatility and the ability to play on the backline – which is something that is particularly useful on a small 18-player roster which is used in the Olympics.

For now, Durkin simply is hoping for a call-up from Kreis to give him the opportunity to show he can help the team qualify for its first Olympics since 2008.

“I saw that they just had a camp right when I arrived and here in Belgium,” Dunkin said. “I haven't heard anything yet from them. I personally think I can be an important part of the team and help with qualifying. But it's up to Jason. I haven't had any contact with him yet but I saw that they were doing well and beat Japan. So I know it's a really competitive group and a solid group as well. I'm really hoping to do well here to prove that I can be with that team.”

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