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Versatile Cam Duke makes impact for hometown Sporting Kansas City

MLS FC Dallas Sporting KC Soccer
Posted at 1:34 PM, May 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-28 16:59:51-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s all still a bit surreal for Sporting Kansas City midfielder Cam Duke, who grew up in Overland Park and graduated from Blue Valley West High School, to be playing significant minutes with the senior team.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of Sporting,” said Duke, who joined Sporting KC Academy in 2012. “I always went to the games. I played in the Academy, went through the U12 team all the way up to the U19 team. I’ve always just been a huge supporter of the team, and it’s awesome to be playing for them today.”

Duke said the 2013 MLS Cup final provided his favorite memory of the team from his childhood.

“I was in the stands,” Duke said. “It was really cool. Luckily, we won and it was an awesome experience. I was able to go on the field after the game and celebrate. That was probably my best memory watching games.”

Now, he hopes to one day help Sporting KC reclaim the MLS Cup as a player with the first team.

During the previous two seasons, Duke appeared in 24 games, including eight starts, but it wasn’t a given that he’d become a staple of Sporting KC’s future.

Sporting KC II Manager Benny Feilhaber played with Duke in 2019 and coached him with the first team during preseason before the 2021 season.

“From the time that I played with him until now, obviously massive strides,” Feilhaber said.

During training in 2019, Feilhaber said Duke didn’t leave “any kind of massive impression on me," but “once I came back as a coach, you could see there were massive strides in his game.”

Still, there was plenty more room to grow entering 2022.

“He has great potential,” Sporting KC winger Daniel Salloi said before the season began. “He just needs to be more brave on the field and realize his talent. Many times I play with him and sometimes I’m like, ‘Go ask for the ball; beat somebody,’ because he’s so good at it — his quick turns and everything. Hopefully, he’s going to step his game up even more this year, because I was very impressed last year.”

Duke has already made 12 appearances with five starts in 2022, which doesn’t include a 102-minute shift in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup win against FC Dallas and 90 minutes Wednesday as Sporting KC advanced to the Open Cup quarterfinals.

“When I first started playing the MLS, it was a quick change from the Academy and the lower levels, but I’m learning to use my quickness as a strength when going at defenders in a game,” Duke said.

He took Salloi’s advice to be braver to heart and is beginning to blossom.

“He wants me to be more confident on the ball — taking chances in the final third, taking risks and stuff,” Duke said. “I feel like as I’ve played more minutes this year, I’ve definitely gained a lot of confidence and just want to continue that.”

Perhaps even more impressive, Duke’s versatility has been on full display in recent weeks.

“The other night he played four positions,” Sporting KC Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes said.

After starting on the right wing, he switched to the left wing, moved to right back and finished the game at left back.

“He’s finding a way,” Vermes said. “I think all those experiences help you as a player. He’s cutting his teeth in a way that normally he wouldn’t get the chance to do. But he is, and he’s embraced the opportunities that have come his way, and, for the most part, I think he’s done really well. But he also is finding out areas that he can get better in.”

Duke, who only turned 21 in February, said he welcomes minutes anywhere on the field he can get time.

“Every time I get the chance to play in front of all the fans, it’s an amazing opportunity and it’s really special for me,” Duke said. “I’ve always pictured myself playing in this stadium. Now that I’m able to do it, it’s just a dream come true. I’ll always work hard for the team and try to give back to all the fans.”

Vermes lauded Duke’s growth as a player and “upward trajectory,” which also has caught Feilhaber’s eye this season.

“His ceiling? Whew, it’s pretty high,” Feilhaber said. “I think in terms of the potential that he has: He has things that you can’t teach — the speed, the quickness to get out of certain situations.”

It allows him to open up the game for teammates.

“The next part of it is him being confident enough and also willing enough to drive at defenses, make them feel uncomfortable and make them make mistakes,” Feilhaber said.

The next step on Duke's pro soccer journey comes at 8 p.m. Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Children’s Mercy Park. The game can be seen live on KSHB’s sister station 38 The Spot.