The last three years have been an adventure for Bilal Duckett. The Notre Dame graduate was drafted by the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2011 but was let go in the offseason after making four appearances, including two starts. Duckett would spend a year with the Harrisburg City Islanders of USL-PRO before earning a trial with the New England Revolution and eventually a contract. The lanky defender believed that he was in line for a triumphant return to Major League Soccer but there were other plans.
“I wasn’t in the starting group for those first couple games so I knew it there a possibility [of me being loaned out] but it wasn’t, to my knowledge at least, the game plan that I was going to go to Rochester when I was signed.”
Duckett, along with Tyler Polak, Matt Horth and Gabe Latigue, was loaned to the Rochester Rhinos of USL-PRO on March 27th. The agreement between the two clubs was the first of its kind for MLS with the goal being that players could develop by getting regular minutes. The affiliation between the Revs and the Rhinos was experimental and endeavored by three other MLS teams.
“I think the reason that they started to do this is because the games in the reserve league were so spread out that even if you were getting a game here and there you still weren’t really getting that game fitness.”
Although the four players were asked to move to Rochester and play for a different team, they remained under the watchful eye of the Revolution coaching staff.
“They checked up on us pretty regularly and tried to make sure that we were all doing well, staying focused and staying confident. They would remind us that there’s a bigger picture and that our year isn’t going to just be that 5-6 months that we’re down there.”
Duckett remained driven while in Rochester, hopeful that he would be given an opportunity to return to the first team. That opportunity came on April 29th when he received an unexpected phone call from Soccer Operations Manager, Jason Grove.
“It was kind of a whirlwind. I got a call and they said: you’re getting on a plane tomorrow and meeting the team in Portland. Then I got a call from Jay [Heaps] and he was like: yeah, you’re going to start in Portland.”
Having once played a reserve match against Portland with 10,000 ardent members of the Timber’s Army in the stands, Duckett knew what to expect when he stepped into Jeld-Wen Field. The California native was also prepared because he was consistently starting games for the Rhinos.
“Unless we had reserve games leading up to that it’s had to say [if I would be ready for the game against Portland] because going out there and playing 90 minutes is completely different than any kind of fitness that you’ll do on the side.”
Duckett’s performance against the Timbers, in which he helped the Revs earn a scoreless draw, was last time to date that he has appeared in a Revolution jersey. Unlike the other loan players, Duckett wasn’t allowed to play for Revs during the Open Cup because he had featured for the Rhinos in an earlier round.
“The way that the agreement was setup was that we were supposed to be available for the Open Cup. Rochester held me in a pretty high regard and wanted to use me in that first game and it cup-tied me. It would have been great to back and get games here but it was out of my hands.”
Duckett stayed with the Rhinos for the entire USL-PRO season, making 19 appearances and scoring one goal. A slow start and a midseason coaching change were damaging to Rochester’s year and the club finished with 28 points and a record of 6-10-10. Despite the hardships, Duckett believes that he has learned a great deal.
“I definitely feel a bit more seasoned. We went through some pains this year in Rochester. It wasn’t the most positive season, but you can either let adversity hold you down or you can use it make you stronger. I refuse to let it be a detriment. I feel older. I feel like I’m ready to handle whatever is thrown my way.”
With the USL-PRO season over, the Rochester contingent has returned to Foxboro to help the Revs during the final stanza of the season. Duckett is determined to help the team in any capacity he can as he awaits his next adventure.
“We’re in the middle of a playoff push. I’m here to help out in whatever way I can. I’m definitely trying to continue improving and fight my way into the 18. If my number’s called I’ll be ready.”
(Image courtesy of Revolutionsoccer.net)