Chris Durkin, the captain of the US under-17 national team, became D.C. United's eighth homegrown signing on Tuesday, sealing a deal which will allow him to start on Wednesday against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the US Open Cup. Durkin, who can play as either a defensive midfielder or a defender, will become the third youngest player to ever take the field for United when he suits up against the Strikers.
"It's really exciting," Durkin said upon completing the deal to make him one of the youngest homegrown players to ever sign with a MLS team. "I've dreamed since I was a little kid of putting on the jersey with my name on the back."
"I have a lot of passion for this club. I've been with this club since I was 11 years old, gone up through the academy system. To be with a club that I've been with since a little kid, there's a level of passion and desire to be at this club."
The process of signing with the club was a quick one for Durkin, after he returned from playing in a tournament with the US U-17 team in India. When that tournament was over at the end of May, Durkin returned stateside, at which point the talks about him getting a professional contract with United accelerated quickly.
"Talks started to come up earlier this month. They started to get serious, and word finally came a few days ago that [a deal] was going to come."
The decision to ultimately sign as a homegrown player with United, which doesn't necessarily lead to lasting success in Major League Soccer, was not one that Durkin or those around him took lightly.
"We did a lot of talking about it. It's a big decision at my age," said Durkin. "Obviously, with college and all of that. We did a lot of consideration, but we thought that this was best for me."
United's top brass had a good look at at Durkin in a professional environment when he was invited to join the team for the preseason back in February, around the time of Durkin's 16th birthday. Durkin had already spent time with United's academy, and was about to take part with the U-17 residency down in Florida when he joined up with the Black-and-Red.
"I've been with the academy for a while, and then I got invited to the residency with the U-17 men's national team," Durkin told B&RU. "And then I went to the first preseason with United, and then I got invited back after, to the second preseason, which was a tournament."
Training with the team during their Florida trips also offered young Durkin a chance to take the field wearing the colors. He wasn't shy about how he thought he performed in those chances: "I think I performed well there."
Last year, Durkin appeared with the Richmond Kickers in a friendly against English side West Bromich Albion. In addition, Durkin made the bench for USL regular season matches on several occasions.
Though he just signed with the club, at the tender age of 16, United already have a plan for Durkin and his development. Yesterday, manager Ben Olsen said that there was a plan in place, but with Durkin eligible to play for United in the US Open Cup, he will stay with the team until August, when he will head back down to the IMG Academy for residency with the U-17 team.
Durkin, who recently captained the U-17 side in a tournament at the 2016 AIFF Youth Cup in India, will get the chance to continue his development, with the U-17s looking to qualify for next year's World Cup in Panama. After the completion of that tournament, Durkin will then rejoin the the Black-and-Red.
"We are taking it at a semester basis right now. At IMG, there are a lot of games and development, so it's good for me to be among my peers," said Durkin.
One of the peers that Durkin will continue to play with in Florida is Andrew Carleton, who was recently signed by Atlanta United as their first ever homegrown player, "upon completion of the necessary Homegrown Player training requirements". Durkin said that Carleton was a good friend of his on the U17 team, and thought that their signings were showing a good trend for the league.
"He's another top prospect with the U-17s," Durkin said of Carleton, who will re-join him back at the IMG academy for U-17 residency. "It's good that we're now going to MLS. We're starting to take shifts toward this league."
At 16 years and 128 days, Durkin is the fourth youngest homegrown player ever signed to a MLS team. The three younger players were Jack McBean, (15 years, 48 days), Zach Pfeffer (15 years, 351 days) and Erik Palmer-Brown (16 years, 101 days). But there will be little celebrating for Durkin, who plans to hang on to his money after signing his deal.
"No," Durkin said if he planned on buying anything with the money from his deal. "I'm saving it all."