When Wayne Rooney launched the 70-yard strike that landed in highlight reels around the world two weeks ago, at least one Audi Field bystander wasn’t fazed: his D.C. United teammate Chris Durkin.
The 19-year-old midfielder, who started alongside Rooney in that 1-0 win over Orlando City, says he regularly engages in practice field competitions with the Englishman to see who can find the net from past midfield.
“Almost nine times out of 10 he hits it,” Durkin said. “So I wasn’t that surprised, to be honest.”
Training alongside a global star such as Rooney is an experience any young player would relish. For Durkin, however, the most valuable commodity in his development this season has been first-team minutes.
After signing with United as a homegrown player in 2016, the Glen Allen, Va., product didn’t play a match in his first two MLS seasons before breaking out with 23 appearances (16 starts) last year. Although Russell Canouse’s return from injury in the second half of last season pushed Durkin down the depth chart, he still has made 11 appearances (six starts) in 2019.
“With Durkin, it’s all about growth,” United coach Ben Olsen said, “and pushing him and getting these games under his belt, so he can become the player he’s going to be.”
Durkin’s games haven’t just come with United this season. In May, he started four of five matches for the U.S. squad that advanced to the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup in Poland.
But with D.C., Durkin remains behind incumbents Junior Moreno and Canouse on the depth chart for the two defensive midfield positions in Olsen’s 4-2-3-1 formation. While Moreno provides stability with clean distribution and Canouse offers scrappy ball-winning prowess, the 6-foot-tall Durkin gives United a more physically imposing option at the position.
“I think that me, Junior and Russell all have different qualities that help balance ourselves out,” Durkin said. “They keep me on my toes, and I want to keep them on their toes. … We understand the competition aspect — on the field we go at it. Then off the field we’re great friends. So it’s been really good for me to continue to learn from those guys.”
Durkin likely will start from the bench Friday when second-place United (8-5-7) hosts the New England Revolution (6-8-5) at Audi Field (7 p.m., ESPN). Sporadic minutes reportedly haven’t stopped top-level European clubs from scouting Durkin, whose age, size and technical ability have made him one of the top prospects in American soccer. But for now, he’s trying to keep his head down and focus on developing with D.C.
“It’s obviously continuing to show Ben each game that I belong on the field,” Durkin said. “I think I’m really, really progressing a lot.”