Doyle making strides at Derby
The 18-year-old Conor Doyle left Creighton to sign with Derby in England
Ordinarily a target forward, Doyle has been deployed behind the sole forward
Doyle has started to see regular playing time in the English Championship
If everything had gone according to plan, Conor Doyle would have spent the weekend celebrating the second victory of his collegiate career.
Instead, he spent it moving into a host family's house while his Derby County team was off because of international qualifiers and friendlies dominating the professional schedule.
Doyle, an 18-year-old Texas native, made the most of an opportunistic summer trial, turning it into a contract with the England League Championship side. Instead of starting at forward for Creighton University, he is roughly 4,200 miles to the east, kicking off his professional career before he ever imagined he would.
"It's been a whirlwind," Doyle said. "It's been crazy. I was preparing for my first college season, and all of a sudden I'm playing in my first Championship season.
"I definitely didn't expect to be doing this at 18. I really wanted this to happen, and I hoped it would, but I never thought it would happen at such a young age."
Doyle's rapid emergence has piqued the interest of American soccer fans who are yearning to see more capable strikers added to the national-team player pool. While Doyle, who holds both American and Irish citizenship, is still a ways from reaching that point, the fact that he's already getting legitimate playing time in England's second division would suggest that his future is quite bright.
He was discovered by a Derby County scout at a club tournament in the United States during the summer of 2009. Derby has an affiliation with a club that was one of Doyle's opponents, and the scout spotted him and invited him for a three-day trial with the team.
Afterward, Doyle carried on as usual, graduating high school early and enrolling at Creighton for the spring 2010 semester. He played with the men's soccer team through the spring season and starred during the team's exhibition slate. Toward the end of the semester Doyle received a phone call from a Derby County representative, who invited him back out to Pride Park for a three-week trial.
"I felt like the trial I had with them went as good as it could possibly go," Doyle said.
So did Derby County. The club rewarded him with a two-year deal worth about $54,000 per season, Doyle said, giving him the springboard to launch his professional career.
In addition to his successful trial, the fact that Doyle holds dual citizenship helped him secure a United Kingdom work permit that enabled him avoid any bumps in the road to joining the team in time for the start of the 2010-2011 season. His father, former indoor soccer standout David Doyle, was born and raised in Ireland.
"It's working out really well right now," Doyle said. "The guys have been fantastic and so welcoming. They made it a second home already."
Before getting the opportunity to turn pro, Doyle, a high school and youth club standout in the Dallas area, was recruited, in part, by former Major League Soccer veteran and current Creighton assistant coach Johnny Torres.
"He's a very talented young soccer player," Torres said. "He's such a technically clean player. He's a traditional target, and he does a good job by holding the ball and allowing the team to get up. He's got a great finishing touch, is very composed and has a good nose for the goal."
"Obviously we were delighted to have him at Creighton, and we wish him well and the best. We're sure he'll be a great professional."
For some players who bolt high school or college for the pros, the move can be premature, evidenced by countless prospects spending time on the bench or with the reserve squad. That hasn't been the case for Doyle.
He has appeared in four of Derby County's five matches and started the last two. He made the bench and was an unused substitute in the team's season opener and made his debut as an 83rd-minute substitute in the Rams' following match, a League Cup loss to Crewe Alexandra on Aug. 10.
Since then, the 6-foot-2 striker has become more of a fixture in the second row of manager Nigel Clough's 4-2-3-1 formation despite being accustomed to playing the target role.
Although he has yet to score for the team that formerly employed U.S. midfielder Benny Feilhaber, Doyle said that while adapting to the League Championship's level of physicality is a challenge, the Rams' style of play suits his game.
"It'd be great to just put one in," Doyle said. "I put that pressure on myself. Whether I'm 18 or whatever, if I'm out there I want to score. I really hope that first one comes soon and there's more to follow."
Should that be the case, a couple of international federations could come calling. Doyle, who has never suited up for a youth national team, said he has yet to be contacted by either the U.S. Soccer Federation or the Football Association of Ireland, nor has he made up his mind for which nation he would play.
"I don't have a predetermined decision toward that," Doyle said. "I'm more focused on playing for Derby and getting into the team here than I am on national teams right now. If that opportunity does come up, I'll obviously talk with my parents and see what the best options are for me."
While Doyle and most of the Americans Abroad were off this week, a small handful still had matches. Here's how they fared (season statistics encompass all competitions):
Jemal Johnson, F, Milton Keynes Dons -- In the 18-man gameday roster, did not play in Milton Keynes Dons' 1-0 victory over Hartlepool United on Saturday. SEASON: 0 games
Frank Simek, D, Carlisle United -- Started, played 90 minutes in Carlisle's 0-0 draw with Swindon Town on Saturday. SEASON: 5 games, 5 starts
Jon-Paul Pittman, F, Wycombe Wanderers -- In the 18, came on as a 60th-minute substitute in Wycombe's 1-1 draw with Accrington Stanley on Saturday. SEASON: 5 games, 2 starts
Michael Hoyos, M, Estudiantes La Plata -- Not in the 18 for Estudiantes' 2-1 victory over Godoy Cruz de Mendoza on Friday. SEASON: 0 games
Ryan Guy, F, St. Patrick's Athletic FC -- Started, played 90 minutes and scored the opening goal in the 12th minute of St. Patrick's Athletic's 1-1 draw with Galway United on Friday. Up next for St. Pat's is a crucial match against first-place Shamrock Rovers, who hold a seven-point lead over Guy's second-place side with eight matches remaining. SEASON: 27 games, 25 starts, 4 goals
Avi Creditor is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.
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