Glen Allen, Virginia, native Chris Durkin became the eighth Homegrown signing in United history in June of 2016, but it wasn't until the March 3, 2018, match at Orlando City that the 18-year-old stepped into a game for the first time as a professional.
With 17 minutes left in the fixture, Durkin entered as a sub and logged two tackles, two duels won, and one interception in the 1-1 draw. The debut represented a long-awaited milestone for the 18-year-old, but it also led fans to wonder if 2018 could be the year Durkin's story shifted from Homegrown fulfilling a dream of playing with his childhood club, to Homegrown flourishing as a consistent contributor for the Black-and-Red.
"My biggest focus has been to eliminate the childhood dream of it and to be like okay, I have to get to work and help my team in any way possible," Durkin said. "I think that’s one of the hardest things as a young player, to put those dreams aside and to humble yourself and get to work."
Since his debut, a combination of relentless work, opportunity, and trust from the Black-and-Red coaching staff has allowed the midfielder to continue gaining regular play time. And as those minutes accumulate, Durkin's quality of minutes has continued progressing, in turn allowing United's youngest player to gain more confidence in various areas of the game.
"In every aspect of the game, he has grown," D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen said of Durkin. "Technically, tactically, and emotionally."
After coming on as a late-match substitute in United's first three games of 2018, Durkin made his first professional start and logged a full 90 minutes at Columbus on March 24. The 18-year-old served alongside fellow Homegrown Ian Harkes as a defensive midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and set a new career high in passes completed with 37, earning an 86 percent passing success rate.
Durkin has since played three additional 90-minute shifts, serving as the lone defensive midfielder in United's March 31 match at Sporting Kansas City, April 28 match at Philadelphia, and May 12 match at Real Salt Lake. Against Sporting, the midfielder tied his passing accuracy career high (86%) and set new career highs in duels won (7), recoveries (7), and tackles (3). Durkin again earned statistical bests in Philadelphia, as he logged four interceptions and tied his three tackle mark against the Union.
In the Black-and-Red's most recent match, Durkin got more involved on the attack and notched his first career assist. Looking to spark a comeback with less than 10 minutes to play, the 18-year-old surveyed his options in the final third and fed Nick DeLeon up the right wing, where the defender sent a ball in the box to Steven Birnbaum, who beat Nick Rimando off the header to pull United back within one in the 83rd minute. In addition to earning his first assist, Durkin also set a new career high in recoveries (11).
The late goal ultimately wasn't enough to earn points in Salt Lake, and while the Homegrown's primary objective remains winning above all else, Durkin still recognizes the learning moments each match poses.
"I think every match I’ve grown," Durkin said. "Every match I continue to feel a little more comfortable and the game slows down a little bit more and I can start to focus on myself. Now the focus is on me coming out of my shell even more and starting to be a player that helps really lead the team."
He may not be the flashiest player on the field, but Durkin's strengths have shined in numerous moments throughout the season as he eases out of his shell more each week. On defense, the young gun has shown his ability to fortify the back line and alleviate pressure, finding ways to operate in tight spaces and remaining composed, despite the fact that he is normally the youngest player on the pitch.
Then, when the Black-and-Red transition into the attack, Durkin's vision and service are hard to miss. With only eight appearances under his belt, the midfielder has already displayed his impressive passing accuracy and skill for feeding the offense, dropping dimes ahead to streaking forwards and showing hints of his potential to develop into a standout defensive midfielder for the club.
As Durkin continues to pick up consistent minutes and fellow defensive mids Júnior Moreno and Russell Canouse continue to work toward full health, the 18-year-old has also remained devoted to soaking in off-the-pitch lessons from his older, more experienced teammates. Working alongside seasoned league veterans like Steven Birnbaum, Nick DeLeon, and Steve Clark, Durkin enters each training day and matchday with a valuable chance to learn from his counterparts, whether that's through their play on the field or their prep away from it.
"Being a young player you want to absorb everything, be a sponge, see everyone’s habits and replicate it in how you get ready for matches," Durkin said. "In the locker room the guys are great, everyone treats me like an older player and with respect, and I feel loved by all the guys and I feel like they see value in me."
While Durkin is collecting daily lessons from his on-field time and the players that surround him, he is also determined to give back to the club and the supporters that have supported him along his journey. And with such a promising future ahead for the Homegrown, Black-and-Red fans can look forward to having a front row seat to Durkin's development as he finds ways to positively contribute more each time he takes the field, always giving his all for the team and its supporters, no matter the circumstances.
"I’ve tried to show the fans that I’m a D.C. United player—I try to exude passion, be a physical player, and show that this is a club that I love. I’ve been with the club since I was 12 years old so I have a deep understanding for what D.C. United is, and I want them to know that I love the club and I’m going to continue to work for the fans through the ups and downs."