Christian Duke has just become the first-ever signing for Sporting Kansas City’s brand new USL club, the Swope Park Rangers. But he is not thinking about being No. 1. He is thinking about how badly he wants to wear No. 20.
Chris Duke, Christian’s father, wore No. 20 throughout his professional indoor soccer career with the Kansas City Comets and Pittsburgh Stingers. Christian fell in love with the game by watching his father play. He remembers wearing, or wanting to wear, No. 20 since he was three years old.
Christian’s story began in Kansas City, on the soccer field and beyond. He is an Overland Park, Kansas, native. He has had a ball at his feet since he could stand on his own. Sporting Kansas City selected him in the first round of the 2013 MLS Supplemental Draft. He spent his first professional season on loan with Orlando City SC, which was at that time Sporting’s USL affiliate. The past two seasons, he has been in the USL with Oklahoma City's Energy FC.
And now, he is back home. He will represent the city that made him—the city where he learned to stand on his own, the city he explored with a ball at his feet as a little boy—on a professional level once again.
“It’s a pretty sentimental day for me,” Christian says, moments after his signing is announced. “I was with Sporting Kansas City two years before, and I left, and coming back is just—having my family here and my friends. They’re going to be able to watch me play every day.”
Christian is very close with his family. His father, now the Kansas Youth Soccer Association director, told him that he was glad to have him home once Christian signed with the Rangers. His mother is Christian’s heart.
“It was a surreal moment. Still is,” he adds. “It hasn’t settled in yet. Just to have (the Swope Park Rangers) think of me and be the first signing is huge. I grew up here, and I watched the first-team play since I was a little kid. My dream had always been to play at a high level, and to be the first signing today has been fantastic.”
Did he have a favorite Kansas City player growing up?
He pauses. “Um, I don’t want to make anybody mad.”
So yes, Christian Duke can play. But he’s smart, too.
He has learned a lot from some of Sporting’s top players, especially Amadou Dia, Saad Abdul-Salaam, Roger Espinoza and Dom Dwyer. He has a special relationship with Dwyer, who was his roommate in Orlando when they both helped the Lions win the 2013 USL Championship.
Dwyer helped Christian when he was released from Sporting last season.
“Dom came to me and we had probably a 30-minute to an hour conversation about how much I should just look at this as a motivator to get back to where I want to be,” Christian remembers. “He just gave me a really good pep talk, kind of got my feelings up and helped me get ready for my next challenge.
“And now I’m back here. It was a very good conversation I had with him.”
Maybe Christian will become a top player in USL and then in MLS, like he dreams to be. Maybe he won’t ever have to leave Kansas City again. There are a lot of maybes, and that’s the beauty of the future for a promising 24-year-old. But Christian Duke is certain of one thing.
He is certain of who he is.
“I’m a pretty shy and humble guy,” he says. “Very hard worker. I do everything I can to obtain my goals.”