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Duka remains upbeat despite slow start to season

Fire fans had a wide range of opinions about striker Dominic Oduro when he was traded to the Columbus Crew this past January. But is the guy the Fire got in return for Oduro ready to step up?

Chicago Fire midfielder Dilly Duka gets some playing time against his former club on Saturday night
Chicago Fire midfielder Dilly Duka gets some playing time against his former club on Saturday night

While a lot of the pre-game focus ahead of the Chicago Fire's 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew on Saturday night was on Dominic Oduro's return to the Windy City, there wasn't as much chatter about the player who the Fire got in exchange for the speedy Ghanaian winger.

Midfielder Dilly Duka was selected by the Crew with the 8th overall selection in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft and showed flashes of brilliance as an offensive provider in three seasons in Columbus, making 45 appearances in total. But an alleged falling-out with Crew head coach Robert Warzycha led the club to trade him to Chicago this past January along with some allocation money in exchange for Oduro.

While Duka didn't start for the Men in Red on Saturday night, he came on for fellow midfielder Joel Lindpere in the 82nd minute. The Fire scored the lone goal of the match a minute later, although Duka wasn't directly involved in the play.

Still, the 23-year-old Montclair, New Jersey native was happy to take the field against his former club.

"I definitely wanted to step on the field," Duka told Hot Time in Old Town after the match. "I was excited to play against some of my former teammates. I was happy to see the (Crew) guys and happy we got the goal at the end."

Duka started the first three matches of the season, but never made it past the 60th minute in any of them before being substituted. He then suffered tightness in his left hamstring in training in the days prior to the Fire's matchup with Chivas USA last month. He missed that game and the next match against the New York Red Bulls, before returning to play the final five minutes of the club's 2-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo last week.

Duka said he only returned to full training this past week and that he's still working hard to develop more chemistry with his new teammates.

"It might take a little (more) time if we keep winning, but that's the best thing for the team right now," he said. "We just got those three points, so however I can contribute right now."

But while Duka is still getting acclimated to Chicago, Oduro is already lighting it up in Columbus. He's started every one of the Crew's seven games, and he already has three goals to his name.

Does Duka perhaps feel any additional pressure to perform due to Oduro's success?

"I think I'm going to have a good year. It's good for Dominic and I know him a bit," said Duka post-game. "But you know, I've got to worry about what's going on in Chicago and with the Fire and we got three points and we've got to just rack up all these points to try to get into the playoffs."

Fire head coach Frank Klopas said every member of the squad will have opportunities to shine throughout the season.

"Throughout the season and the year, you've got to rely on the team," said Klopas in his post-match press conference. "Everyone is putting everything into it and when you have a good mentality, you feel things will turn (for the better)."

And for Duka, it appears that winning and continuing to pick up three points is more important than individual accolades right now.

"The coaches see me as a little bit of time off the bench until I get fitter and we'll go from there," he said. "We got three points, it's a good day."