The MLS homegrown model has shifted away from the literal meaning of its description, evolving instead into something resembling college recruitment. Sporting Kansas City landed Gianluca Busio and Jaylin Lindsey from North Carolina. They pulled Wan Kuzain from Illinois. And then there’s Daniel Salloi, a homegrown player who grew up 5,000 miles away in Hungary.
But on Friday, Sporting KC introduced its newest homegrown player in a truer sense. Cameron Duke, 18, grew up here. He joined Sporting’s academy when he was 12. The academy director coached him before that. Knew him when he was in diapers, actually. Coached him for nearly a decade.
This is the way it was supposed to be. The way the pathway is set up to breed talent.
“To have a kid be born and raised here and come through our system is incredible,” Sporting KC Academy director Jon Parry said, later adding. “I remember Cam — I used to hold him when he was a baby. It’s exciting for me personally to see him come through the system like that. He’s a tremendous talent.”
Six years. Duke spent his teenage years playing at every level within Sporting’s academy. Chasing his dream there. Biding his time.
He nearly went to college. He had already committed to join, well, Duke. “Honestly, I was pretty close,” he said.
But the contract offer finally came this week. Duke signed the papers on Tuesday night, sitting with his family. Afterward, he hopped in his car, drove to his grandparents house in a Kansas City suburb and informed them.
“I’m staying home,” he began.
They sat among the crowd at a press conference on Friday introducing Duke as the newest Sporting KC player. His parents and sisters joined, too.
Sporting drafted Duke’s brother Christian Duke in the 2013 supplemental draft. He was loaned out a few times and eventually captained the Swope Park Rangers.
The family has seen two athletes develop in the same system.
“I’ve always looked up to my brother,” Cameron Duke said. “I’ve learned from him a lot. Just seeing him be the captain of the Swope Park Rangers, I realized I could do the same thing — play professionally like he has. He’s a good leader on and off the field. That’s something I want to try to implement into my game.”
On the field, Duke (5-7, 135 pounds) lacks size but has elusive speed. Parry described him as “very good with the ball” at his feet. He’s demonstrated staying power within Sporting’s preferred 4-3-3 model. In the academy, Duke typically occupies an attacking midfield role, though Sporting coach Peter Vermes mentioned right back as a potential option, too.
That’s the long-term future. More immediately, Duke will start training with the first team after recovering from a minor hamstring injury. The Swope Park Rangers, the team his brother captained, figure to be a major part of the recipe in his development.
“All those opportunities for him to get ready for someday becoming a first-team player (are) going to be available to him,” Vermes said. “That’s the ultimate objective with every single player, including him, and that’s to get him to the first team and have him be a regular in the lineup week after week.”