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2018 Review: Durkin comes of age in first MLS campaign

Defensive midfielder Chris Durkin became the eighth Homegrown signing in D.C. United's history, and the fifth-youngest signing in Major League Soccer history, on June 14, 2016, but it wasn't until the 2018 season that the 18-year-old saw MLS game action for the first time. On March 3, during the Black-and-Red's 2018 season opener at Orlando City Stadium, Durkin entered the match with 17 minutes remaining, making his first-ever MLS appearance and showing the United coaching staff's belief that the young midfielder was ready to make an impact. 

Over the next eight months, Durkin came of age before Black-and-Red supporters' eyes, gradually settling into his role with United and showing that his mental and physical development since June 2016 now allowed him to compete with some of the toughest competition in the league. The Homegrown appeared in 23 games this season and made 16 starts, picking up 1,503 minutes and invaluable in-game experience with the first team.

"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," Durkin said early in the season after his first few starts. "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." 

When fellow defensive midfielders Russell Canouse and Júnior Moreno were sidelined with injury, Durkin confidently stepped in, sometimes lining up as the lone holding midfielder in a 4-1-4-1 formation, sometimes slotting alongside Canouse or Moreno in a 4-2-3-1. Regardless of formation, Durkin showed he's one of the most promising young Americans in the league. His physicality and aggressive style of play allow him to be a tough line of defense in the middle of the pitch, while his composure in tight spaces and improved decision making on the ball have made him more of a cog in the attack. 

"In every aspect of the game, he has grown. Technically, tactically, and emotionally," D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen said of Durkin after the midfielder made his first MLS start on March 24 in Columbus. 

The midfielder also featured in the starting XI in United's 3-1 win at San Jose on May 19, their 3-1 win over Vancouver in Audi Field's inaugural match on July 14, their 2-1 win over Minnesota on September 12, their 1-0 win over Dallas on October 13, and their 1-0 win over Toronto on October 17. He picked up his first career MLS assist on May 12 at Real Salt Lake. 

Durkin's impressive performance in San Jose earned him his first career MLS Team of the Week honor. The Homegrown was a force in the midfield against the Quakes, recording 53 successful passes, eight duels won, and three tackles. 

The 2018 season was a year of growth and lessons learned for Durkin. As the 18-year-old becomes more and more comfortable, he will continue to play a larger and larger role with the Black-and-Red. This year was an exciting starting point for the defensive midfielder, but it's only the beginning—with his work ethic, technical ability, and knowledge of the game, Durkin could be on track to become one of the best American defensive midfielders in the league.