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.
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 KC’s 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, it’s a watershed moment, but he realizes it’s also only the beginning.
“It’s a great opportunity to play for my hometown team,” Duke said. “I’ve always dreamed about it since I was a kid. I can’t wrap my head around having a contract now, but I’ve 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, wasn’t eligible as a Homegrown Player because he didn’t 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.
“He’s done well enough to get this opportunity,” Vermes said. “The great thing is, having gone through our Academy, it’s 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 isn’t likely to see time with the senior roster right away, but he is confident that he’ll push for minutes as his career advances.
“When I got picked, it was a crazy feeling,” Duke said. “I didn’t 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 Harrington’s 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.
“He’s 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 he’s 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.
“I’ve always wanted to play in MLS and I am very happy to have signed," Jerome said. "It’s 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.