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Is Cam Duke Sporting KC’s Once and Future Right Back?

Discussion of Cam Duke’s performance last Saturday and his prospects for playing the RB position going forward.

MLS: FC Dallas at Sporting Kansas City Gary Rohman-USA TODAY Sports

You might be forgiven for having a few butterflies in the tumbler when Graham Zusi pulled up hurt on Saturday early in the game. One man who seemingly did not was Cameron Duke. He came on to play a stunningly good performance, at a spot that is not his natural one, I might add. Let’s dive into his performance to understand just what made him so effective and if it could translate to long-term play at the right-back spot for Cameron Duke.

How Did He Know How To Play That Role?

I may have overstated when I said RB is not Cam’s natural position, he actually had some runouts there for SPR Sporting Kansas City II back in the day. While he did not feature there a ton he would have gotten some familiarity. Peter Vermes has also mentioned him as a potential RB in press conferences before, but I always assumed it would be a band-aid until the starter could come back. He also played there against FC Dallas last season. His play on Saturday however made me wonder if it just might be his most effective position.

But The Defense Gave Up Two Goals...

It would be fair to question if a defender had a successful game when their team gives up two goals. So let's take a look at those two goals by FC Dallas.

1. The leadup to the first goal I could not video for because I am out of market, but I don't remember it being Duke’s fault that Paul Arriola gets in behind and puts Kortne Ford in the spot to take him down for a free-kick. Certainly, the ensuing direct free-kick goal by Alan Velasco is not Duke’s fault because it was a worldie.

2. The second goal might have a little more shout of being his fault, but I still feel he is not primarily at fault here. Jesus Ferreira makes a very good run and Duke is tracking with his man until the last second when he turns around to try to shut down the shot. Could he have made the tackle there? Maybe, but it is a high-risk play and I don't mind him showing Ferreira the far post, which barring a great shot Tim Melia had covered.

He Did A Lottttt Right

Duke’s 1v1 ability defensively and offensively kept showing up throughout the game. The eye test indicated he was all over the right side of the field breaking up plays, dribbling and passing the ball in dangerous positions. And the underlying numbers reflect that as well. Defensively, he had the most tackles won on the team, and did not give up any fouls. Offensively, he completed 80% of his passes, picked up an assist, and drew two fouls. Not a bad day at the office for a fledgling right-back.

But What About Zusi? Or Pierre?

Zusi’s injury appears to have him out for at least a few weeks according to Peter Vermes.

On the other hand how many times have we see these minor “knocks” turn into months long issues. Also at 35-years-old the recovery is just going to be slower than a younger player’s. I wish Graham the best and have appreciated everything he has done for this club... but I could see this being the beginning of the end for his starting days if Duke continues to show well at the spot.

So what about Kayden Pierre? He is, after all, the only other RB on the roster besides Zusi. Well, statements by Benny Feilhaber lead me to wonder if Kayden is ready to take the step to MLS just yet. In this press conference on April 22nd, near the end Benny suggests that no one loaned down from the first team is playing well enough to earn first team minutes. That would include Pierre so my guess is PV will be hesitant to give him the start.

Final Thoughts

If Duke is able to replicate the level of play going forward, I could very easily see the spot being his the rest of the season. There is one downside to that however, namely Duke is not playing in midfield. At this point he is the most dynamic midfielder we have who is not injured (unless you consider Tzionis a midfielder but I think his best spot is on the wing). So by playing him at RB you are not getting that dynamism. Perhaps he can still add that from the RB position but it will be worth watching how it all plays out. Who knows maybe I am all wrong and Pierre gets the start against New York City FC, but I for one would love to see more of Duke.