After several seasons with English Championship side Derby County, 21-year-old forward Conor Doyle has spent the past couple of months stamping his presence with a struggling D.C. United team that is looking toward next year.
One area D.C. isn’t looking past, however, is the chance to play for a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship when it travels to Utah to face Real Salt Lake on Tuesday (7 p.m. MT, GolTV).
“Anytime you have the opportunity to play for a trophy, that’s pretty cool,” Doyle said. “That game is coming around soon. The focus will be tough because we have a game against Toronto FC on Saturday, so it will be a quick turnaround. It will mean having double the homework for two teams. The mood has been great around the club despite the struggles. That’s our season since we beat Chicago in the semifinal.”
The Texas native and former Dallas Texans Academy player signed with Derby County in 2010 at age 18 and made 13 appearances in his rookie season in the Championship. That early success was followed by a couple seasons with multiple injuries and limited playing time.
“I’ve had loads of ups and downs,” Doyle said. “My dream was always to play in England, so getting signed over there and having the chance to do that was fantastic. The first year was pretty good and I had quite a few appearances as an 18-year-old. But my playing time dwindled, I’ve had a few injuries, so that makes it hard to get better.”
In July of this year, D.C. United acquired Doyle on loan through a lottery process after he had been training with the Colorado Rapids. Several days after the lottery, Doyle was bound for D.C., where he scored two goals in his first four games.
“It’s all about playing time for me right now,” Doyle said. “These games mean something for me, and I was glad that I scored a couple goals near the start. That part of it’s been great, and I’ve been able to help the team. They trust me enough to bring me off the bench when I haven’t started. It’s been a good progression.”
Since returning to the States for his first season in MLS, Doyle has certainly taken notice of the culture in the league and the immediate impact of former Development Academy players on many first teams throughout the league.
“There are not only kids coming up through the Academy, but they also have an effect on the teams that they’re playing for, almost right away,” Doyle said. “That just shows how much the Academy has improved and how the levels of American soccer have risen. They’re able to produce and make an impact right away.”
While still early in his career, Doyle looks back fondly on the road he took to get to this point, going through the growth of the Development Academy structure and his international opportunities with the U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team.
“The Academy had just started, and I was in the beginning of when everything was formed,” Doyle said. “The competition was so much better than anything else you were around before then. Everyone was really good. Then you go from that to a professional environment. It really molds you. At the Texans, we had a really professional environment. We were brought up to be good professionals if that day ever came. You learn to be professional both individually and as a team, and you learn a lot from the other guys who go through that process. Being around the Academy and National Team, you get some good coaching and great training.”
Now Doyle has become a viable game day option for D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen as the team prepares for its most important match of 2013 with the title game of the 100th edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. D.C. United is in search of its third U.S. Open Cup crown after winning the 1996 and 2008 titles.
“It’s been great,” Doyle said. “D.C. United has an unbelievable fan base. The season hasn’t gone the way we expected it to or wanted it to, but it’s been awesome, and the guys are great. The lottery was a little crazy, but it’s interesting how everything all worked out.”