The word usually used to describe Dilly Duka the past few seasons has been "potential."
Now it seems Duka might be ready to fulfill his potential.
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The 23-year-old winger acquired in February in the trade that sent Dominic Oduro to Columbus finally looks like he's feeling comfortable in Chicago. He scored his first goal in a Fire uniform a couple of weeks ago against his former team, for which he scored just twice in three seasons. He's playing more aggressively now, taking on more defenders on the dribble and having more success at it.
"I feel like the more I'm training, the more I'm with the team -- I mean, we're a couple of months into the season -- I feel more comfortable with the guys," Duka said after training Monday. "The chemistry overall has been better. Now I know how like (Gonzalo Segares), the left back, plays, and (right back Jalil Anibaba). As a winger you really want to have good chemistry with these guys, and I feel like I know their games inside and out now. It's better. It could be a lot more better, but it's a lot better than when we started."
Coach Frank Klopas has noticed the improvement in Duka as well, making sure to keep him in a starting role in a crowded midfield.
"Dilly's a young player that I think we knew his quality and his talent," Klopas said. "That's why we had him here, but sometimes it does take time. Now it's about the consistency."
San Jose (5-7-6, 21 points) comes to town Wednesday night (7:30 p.m., Channel 50) struggling to live up to last season's run to the Supporters' Shield. The eighth-place Earthquakes did just claim a stunning 3-2 comeback victory against the L.A. Galaxy in the California Clasico last weekend. They did it without physical center back Victor Bernardez, who picked up a red card early in the match and will be suspended for Wednesday's game in Bridgeview.
"He's definitely a beast back there," Duka said, prodded about San Jose's reputation for physical play, "but they have enough physical players to worry about. It's good that one went down, but still I'm sure the guy that's going to fill in for him is just as physical."
Missing the captain:
Midfielder Logan Pause remains day-to-day with a back injury but is doubtful for Wednesday's match, and he could miss Sunday's home game against Sporting Kansas City also, Klopas said.
Midfielder Patrick Nyarko trained Monday with a splint on his right hand, but it won't stop him from playing.
"I think it's going to bother him a little bit if he's bowling, but other than that he's OK," Klopas joked.
Big shoes to fill:
With Sean Johnson on national team duty for the Gold Cup, Paolo Tornaghi will take over in goal.
"Paolo's good," Klopas said, "he's ready to go. ... No issue with Paolo. He's an experienced guy. He's been in moments like this before."
July 1 is the deadline to release players on semi-guaranteed contracts to free up space under the salary cap, but Klopas said the Fire would keep its roster intact for now. The Fire has 27 players on its roster now following the retirement last week of Arne Friedrich. The maximum is 30 players.
The next date to remember is July 9, when the secondary transfer window opens.
Victor is back:
With the U.S. U-20 national team's stint in the World Cup over, midfielder Victor Pineda is back in Fire red and looking again to crack the lineup.
Pineda, a Bolingbrook native who watched from the sidelines this spring while recovering from a knee injury, on Monday pronounced himself fit and ready to play.
"I feel pretty confident, especially after this trip," Pineda said. "Just playing games in general just gives me more confidence, and I feel like every time I come back from the national team I feel a little bit better about myself. So yeah, I feel ready."
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