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Conor Doyle

Conor Doyle’s Remarkable Upward Climb

“Where did this kid come from?”

More than a few American soccer fans asked that question last summer when then 18-year-old striker Conor Doyle signed a professional contract with English Championship side Derby County.

The questions continued as Doyle quickly saw time with the first team. Just days after the club announced his signing, the Texas-native was starting his first game in England. As he burst into soccer discussions in the United States, Doyle continued to make appearances across the pond, getting a few starts and several appearances with the first team right off the bat.

The discussions back home continued, and Doyle was called into his first camp with the U.S. national team at any level in December 2010, joining the U-20s for a training camp in Florida.

“Last year was just a crazy year, and it ended with my first national team camp,” Doyle said. “I was definitely nervous, but it helped that I grew up with Dillon [Powers] because our dads played together on the Dallas Sidekicks. I’ve also played with Sebastien [Ibeagha] and Greg [Garza] so I knew a few guys here and I’ve just built on that.”

Since that camp, Doyle has become an important part of the U.S. U-20 MNT that is attempting to qualify for an eighth-consecutive FIFA U-20 World Cup. Through two qualifying games in Guatemala City, Doyle has a goal and two assists in 180 minutes while playing virtually everywhere on the front line and in the midfield.

“I like to think I’m versatile and able to play anywhere,” said the lanky attacker. “As long as I can do the jobs right and coach wants me to do them, I’ll do them for him and for the team.”

The 6-foot 1-inch striker credits his competitive nature to his parents – his father David played in the Major Indoor Soccer League for 17 years – and his upbringing in the Dallas Texans program. Already a successful club, the Texans joined the Development Academy during the 2008-09 season, and raised its standards even more, helping Doyle transition to his current professional environment.

“The club is very well run,” he said. “But you could tell once we joined the Development Academy it got a little bit more professional than it already was, especially with the two Academy teams. We got our own facilities and built up a locker room and club house and so you could tell we are moving towards what a professional environment would be like.”

A relationship with fellow Development Academy club Derby County Wolves (Michigan) provided an unanticipated opportunity for the young forward. He went to England to train with Derby County with little expectation, but got an invitation back. Doyle had been set to play the fall season with the Bluejays of Creighton. Instead, with his family’s support, he moved in with a host family in central England and began his football career.

Despite his fast rise, Doyle knows he needs to continue to improve in order to be successful in Europe and with the national teams.

“[My development] is definitely an upward slope right now,” said Doyle. “Things are definitely going up especially under the manager I’m with now, Nigel Clough. He does great with young players. I’ve learned so much not just from him, but the players at the club as well with all of their experience. Professionally I would like to build on what I have done so far. I have been focusing on developing into the player I want to be and that the club wants me to be and just keep going in the direction that I’ve been going.”

That direction has taken Doyle to Guatemala, where he and his teammates have finished at the top of Group B at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship. The young U.S. squad has its sights on one goal: winning their all-important quarterfinal match against to secure on of the region’s four berths to the FIFA U-20 World Cup.

After that?

“I just want to become the best player I possibly can be,” he said. “I know I’m far from that and probably won’t ever reach it, but I’ll just keep working hard and hopefully get close one day.”