Cameron Duke - Sporting KC vs. FC Dallas - Sept. 5, 2020

Sporting Kansas City Show: From ball kid to MLS starter, Cam Duke fulfills a dream at Children's Mercy Park

Running throughout the season on Sports Radio 810 WHB, the Sporting Kansas City Show is available on several podcast hubs including Spotify and iTunes as well as With Nate Bukaty, Carter Augustine and Aly Trost hosting the weekly program, Sporting fans have a place to go to catch up on club storylines, guest interviews and more.

From Sporting Kansas City ball kid to Sporting Kansas City midfielder, 19-year-old Academy product Cam Duke has fulfilled a dream that continues to unfold before his very eyes.

Duke, a longtime Academy standout and the younger brother of Sporting KC II captain Christian Duke, earned his first professional start in Sporting’s 1-1 draw against FC Dallas on Wednesday at Children’s Mercy Park.

As one might imagine, the moment for him—and for the Academy—was incredibly special. Wednesday marked the second time in club history that Sporting started four Homegrown Players, with Manager Peter Vermes deploying an all-Homegrown midfield of Duke, 18-year-old Gianluca Busio and 22-year-old Felipe Hernandez.

Duke’s 57-minute performance drew positive reviews from Vermes and came just a few years after the Overland Park native roamed the sidelines as ball kid during Sporting home games.

Midfielder Cam Duke on the Sporting KC Show

In his Thursday appearance on the Sporting Kansas City Show with hosts Nate Bukaty, Carter Augustine and Aly Trost, the blossoming midfielder reflected on a milestone evening in which he competed alongside MLS veterans he long idolized as a rising Academy player.

“I thought being a ball kid was always exciting times because you got to be up very close to the first team and watch the game from field level,” Duke said. “It just made you want to be out there playing. Now that I’m out there, it’s funny to look back at and see how small I was and those experiences I went through.”

A Throwback Thursday photo of a much younger Duke with captain Matt Besler surfaced this week. In addition to treating fans to social media gold, it shed light on the amazing journey Duke has navigated in recent years. Like Besler, he attended Blue Valley West High School and, like so many of his Academy teammates, envisioned himself one day breaking into the Sporting KC first team with heroes like Besler, Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza and others.

“Even though I was around those guys as a ball kid, I would still get a little bit nervous,” Duke said. “They were the ones playing in the games as professionals. I was just in the Academy, so I wanted to be where they were at the time. Back then I was nervous, but now they’re just my teammates. We’re all just good friends now.”

Duke admitted that he had some butterflies in the leadup to Wednesday’s game, knowing he would be counted on heavily as a midfield starter. However, the fact that he was doing so alongside three of his former Academy teammates made him feel like he truly belonged on the pitch.

“I had some nerves, But I just thought that this was a good opportunity to showcase myself. I would probably have to start at some point, so what better way than to do it in my hometown stadium?” he said. “It also made me feel more confident playing alongside (the other Homegrown Players) and I think we did pretty well together. We can obviously continue to improve as well, but for the most part I think we did well. In the second half, we were the dominant team. We created a bunch of chances.”

Within 30 seconds of kickoff, Duke accelerated into the attacking third with the ball at his feet and had the opportunity to shoot from 25 yards. Shouts among the fans in attendance encouraged Duke to pull the trigger, but instead he laid the ball wide to Gerso. In hindsight, and having discussed the exact moment with teammates after the match, he figures he maybe should have tried his luck from distance.

“I wouldn’t consider myself a player that takes many shots,” he said. “I’m more of a dribble-and-dish guy and let the forwards do their jobs. One of the things I need to work on as an attacking midfielder is taking more shots because we have a lot of opportunities in games to do that.”

Following the match, Duke was greeted by a wave of missed phone calls and congratulatory texts from friends and family members. And although he, too, was delighted to see his long-term goal become a reality, he hopes it’s only the start of something far more rewarding.

“This has always been a dream of mine, and my family and friends have been extremely supportive,” Duke said. “Hopefully I can continue to keep getting minutes and improving as a player. Obviously there’s a lot of hard work still to be done.”

Duke and Sporting will now prepare for Saturday's road test against the Houston Dynamo, slated for 7 p.m. CT at BBVA Compass Stadium with live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus, FOX Sports Midwest Plus, FOX Sports GO and Sports Radio 810 WHB. Sporting occupies first place in the Western Conference, while Houston is coming off a pair of convincing victories, including a 5-2 defeat of Vermes' men on Aug. 25.