Chris Duvall: A Stranger Acclimates To A New Land

USA Today

In preparation for his third season in MLS, all with Red Bull New York, Chris Duvall rented his first market-rate apartment since turning pro. Despite his modest salary, the defender managed to save enough money to afford his two bedroom apartment in Manhattan’s West Village with a roommate prior to the 2016 MLS season. Less than a year later, and through no choice of his own, the 25-year-old found himself on the move to another country and organization. On Saturday, the Georgia-native made his return to the Big Apple when New York City FC hosted his Montreal Impact.

“It’s a weird feeling to be here and it not be my home,” said Duvall, speaking exclusively to Metro Soccer Nation after the 1-1 draw. “It’s nice though. We’re still playing against a team that I don’t like very much and it’s fun to be back in this city where I know a lot of people and see a lot of friendly faces.”

2016 was, by far, the most successful campaign of Duvall’s budding career. In 25 MLS matches, 20 of which he started, the Wake Forest alumnus established himself as one of the most versatile and valuable players in the league. Originally a midfielder, he was converted to a wingback when he joined the club in 2014. Due to injuries last season, he took on added responsibility by converting to centerback in the middle of the year – a role he filled admirably. It seemed as if Duvall had found a home with the Red Bulls. However, as Chris would find out, fate has a funny way of turning the expected into the unexpected.

Just a week after MLS Cup, the frenetic offseason that was winter 2016/17 kicked off with the expansion draft. With Atlanta United and Minnesota United joining MLS, they had the opportunity to select active players from current MLS rosters. When it was revealed that Duvall was, surprisingly, not protected by RBNY, most pundits projected him to be drafted by his hometown club with the first-overall pick. However, in a bigger surprise, Atlanta passed on him and, instead, Minnesota used their first pick on Duvall. However, his journey wasn’t over yet. Only hours later Duvall was traded from the Twin Cities to the Montreal Impact.

“I learned that I wasn’t being protected so I kinda assumed that I’d end up either in Atlanta or Minnesota,” said the modest interviewee. “I kinda wrapped my head around the idea of leaving New York.” While at a MLS Players Union meeting, Duvall watched the draft on his computer. “I saw that I was picked by Minnesota and traded to Montreal. It was kinda a whirlwind.”

Duvall credits the Impact organization with helping with his transition and making him feel comfortable in his new surroundings. “I spent time talking with [Manager] Mauro [Biello] and [Technical Director] Adam Braz and they welcomed me and helped me figure out what was next. It all went pretty fast, but thanks to these guys it was pretty smooth.”

Duvall, to his credit, admitted that he would prefer to be closer to his family in Atlanta following the draft. “It’s always nice to be close to my parents, my friends, my family, and my brother. Unfortunately this job doesn’t allow that most of the time, but it’s nice to get to experience a new city. As much as I kind of expected to end up in Atlanta, ending up in Montreal was the best surprise I could’ve had.”

Prior to his trade, Duvall had never spent an extended amount of time in another country. Now he’s living in one, in a region where English is a second language. Despite his 10-years of French in school, he admits the language has been one of the toughest hurdles to overcome but is working diligently at redeveloping the skill. “Now, living in Montreal, it’s starting to come back. I prefer the trainers and non-English speaking teammates to talk to me in French so that I can learn a bit more.” He also credits his French-speaking former Red Bulls defensive teammates Aurelien Collin, Damien Perrinelle, and Ronald Zubar with helping him over training ground lunches.

Chris Duvall takes on his current teammate Ignacio Piatti during last year’s playoffs while with the Red Bulls (Credit: USA Today)

Prior to joining the Impact, Duvall relied on Red Bulls’ midfielder Felipe and manager Jesse Marsch, former members of the Montreal Impact, about what to expect there. “Whether it be Felipe and Jesse, or guys who have just visited, everyone has great things to say about the city and team.”

“I told him about where is the best area to live, where to go to find good restaurants, and that he needs to learn French very quickly,” said Felipe. “I spoke to him couple of weeks ago and I think he listened to me since he is living where I told him to live.” The Brazilian added, “He is enjoying it and I’m happy for him. Chris is a guy that I always enjoyed playing with because he gives it his all.”

If the language barrier was the most difficult cultural hurdle to overcome, joining the team that just knocked his out of the playoffs the previous year was the biggest mental challenege Duvall faced. “Thankfully, when I came in, there were no hard feelings from them, and that made everything all the easier. Whether it was [Ignacio Piatti] who I was going head-to-head against all year long, or our captain Patrice [Bernier], or the coaching staff, everyone was so welcoming that any bitterness I had about them knocking us out of the playoffs was just shed pretty quickly.”

Duvall recalled his battles with Piatti on the pitch and how they shaped his introduction to Montreal. “I actually got into it with Ignacio on the field a couple of times. I was, uh, a little nervous to meet him, but he’s such a nice guy that it’s been great.”

“It was an interesting thought at the beginning of the season. You spend the offseason bitter while watching that team play, the one that knocked you out and ended your MLS Cup dreams. Then, all of a sudden, you’re a part of that team and the bitterness eroded as time went on as I realized these are my teammates now, and this is going to be my family.”

For his three years with the Red Bulls, Duvall thanked everyone associated with the team…albeit, with one caveat. “I want to that all the players and Red Bulls fans. I miss you and I can’t wait to beat you.” He’ll get his opportunities on June 3rd in Montreal, and on July 29th at the place he still thinks of as home, Red Bull Arena.