As a youth player in the Sporting Juniors Academy, Christian Duke often paused to watch the first team train, soaking in the professional atmosphere and learning a little about the demands Sporting Kansas City puts on its players.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Now, Duke, 21, is one of them after the club announced Thursday it had signed the 2009 Shawnee Mission South graduate along with right back Mechack Jerome, who was on trial from the Sporting KCs USL Pro affiliate Orlando City, SC.
For Duke, who was taken in the first round of the MLS Supplemental Draft out of San Diego in January, its a watershed moment, but he realizes its also only the beginning.
Its a great opportunity to play for my hometown team, Duke said. Ive always dreamed about it since I was a kid. I cant wrap my head around having a contract now, but Ive got to keep working. This is an opportunity to grow as a player and learn from the older guys and the coaching staff.
Duke, an attacking midfielder who also played left back one season with the Toreros, wasnt eligible as a Homegrown Player because he didnt train with Sporting KC enough hours during the summers he was in college.
Still, his familiarity with manager Peter Vermes system was a big factor in earning a roster spot.
Hes done well enough to get this opportunity, Vermes said. The great thing is, having gone through our Academy, its not a big adjustment for him. Those young kids are doing a lot of the same things we do, so his adjustment is more to the speed and physicality.
Super fit and technically gifted, Duke isnt likely to see time with the senior roster right away, but he is confident that hell push for minutes as his career advances.
When I got picked, it was a crazy feeling, Duke said. I didnt really know what to feel, so I just wanted to go out there and work my tail off and shine. I know Peter likes the hard-nosed, blue-collar type player and I feel like I can provide that for them. My endurance and energy can be key for me going forward.
Meanwhile, Jerome, 22, provides much-needed cover at right back behind incumbent starter Chance Myers after Michael Harringtons offseason departure.
When we traded Michael, we needed to make sure we had a right and left back to fill the void in case one of the other guys went down, Vermes said. Having the games that he has and the physicality that he has is going to be good.
Vermes lauded the experience and player development Jerome, a Haitian international, received with Orlando City.
Hes played a lot of games in USL and he was at a good club, where he got a lot of good development, Vermes said. Our relationship with them helped in getting it done, but hes a player that has a lot of potential to fit into the way we want to do things.
Breaking into MLS, of course, is a dream come true for Jerome as well.
Ive always wanted to play in MLS and I am very happy to have signed," Jerome said. "Its a group of great guys and a good team. I feel comfortable here already.
Sporting KC kicks off the 2013 MLS regular season on the road at 3 p.m. Saturday against the Philadelphia Union.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.