Jersey Boy & FC Motown Legend Dilly Duka Goes Home Again…Again

Former MLS journeyman Dilly Duka returns (once more) to stoke the fortunes of New Jersey-based amateurs FC Motown – this time from the technical area as head coach.
By: Michael Lewis

It took Dilly Duka all of 45 minutes to become an FC Motown legend.

In his Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup debut for the club in 2018, the midfielder scored twice to turn a one-goal deficit into a 2-1 First Round victory over the New York Red Bulls Under-23s.

"He's a legend not only for the club, but for the local area," co-owner Scott Kindzierski said.

Living in Montville, New Jersey, the same town where he grew up and attended high school, Duka is ready to make an impact once again with the successful amateur side.

Not as a player, this time, but as head coach.

"When I came back to Motown in 2018, I just wanted to play as I was living in my hometown," Duka said. "They gave me that opportunity, that stage. I took full advantage of it."

Now he wants to return that favor to the most recent crop of Motown players.

Family Man Back in the Arena

FC Motown co-owners and co-founders Dan Karosen and Kindzierski felt it was the right time for Duka – who stepped away from fulltime amateur soccer in 2019 to focus on his three-child family – to write another chapter with the club.

"Just his experience at the highest level of soccer, not only here but in the world," Kindzierski said with a shake of the head as the team prepares for an Open Cup First Round home game against New York City II on March 21st. "He knows the ownership…the coaching staff. He's played with a lot of the players that are on the current roster. It was a seamless fit for us.

“He also has the respect of the guys in the locker room who knew what type of player he was and the career he’s had," Kindzierski added of Duka, who spent seven years in the U.S. top flight of Major League Soccer.

Duka took over the coaching reins from former New York Red Bulls defender Gideon Baah, who guided FC Motown to the 2022 National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) title.

The FC Motown owners' ongoing commitment was a contributing factor in his decision.

"They really have a passion for giving these young men at college level a place to stay fit and still have that dream of getting back to higher levels,” Duka said. “Motown is that space in between. A few college players that might not have gotten drafted – they come through Motown, play for a year or two and then they're out there in a lower tier of a European league or they're out there making a USL Championship [U.S. DII pro league] team."

Several months after leaving Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls, Duka became an overnight Motown hero, connecting twice in the Open Cup against the team’s U-23 squad in May of  2018.
Duka (left) against the Red Bulls U-23 side in the Open Cup

That Red Bulls team, which competed in the Premier Development League (now USL League Two) took a 19th-minute lead on Brian Saramago's header. Then Duka took center stage during a nine-minute span.

Chris Katona sent a ball from the right side into the middle to an onrushing Duka, who drilled a left-footed shot home for a 35th-minute equalizer. Then, after a long throw-in, Duka shielded off a defender and volleyed the ball inside the far post outside the six-yard box for a 2-1 lead in the 44th  minute.

Duka admitted he had mixed emotions.

 "I was competing against players on that Red Bull team that were a lot younger. So, it was a bittersweet moment where I'm playing against the younger generation of kids that have these dreams and goals for the team I played for and I kind of crushed it. Even after the game, you wish those guys the best and you hope they make it as far as possible."

Among those players was midfielder Omir Fernandez, who played five years with the senior Red Bulls before signing with another MLS team, the Colorado Rapids, as a free agent.

Duka's most recent Open Cup game for Motown wasn’t as successful. He scored in a 2-2 draw with the now defunct Rochester New York FC in April 2022, but missed his penalty kick in the shootout. Motown ended up losing 4-3 in the tie-breaker.

"It was difficult," he said. "I wasn't totally convinced I was going to be competing in the Open Cup with Motown [that year]. My fitness level wasn’t there. I tried to do my best for the group. It always stinks to lose."

While the loss stung, FC Motown did earn $25,000 from the U.S. Soccer Federation as the furthest-advancing amateur team in the competition that year.

A Dilly of a Dilly

And before we forget, about that name.

Headline writers should thank Duka for his nickname:

A Dilly of a goal.

A Dilly of a performance.

A Dilly of a win.

You get the idea.

He was christened Dilaver Duka before he was nicknamed Dilly as a youngster.

"It's worked, right? The nickname was catchy, and it stuck as a youth. It definitely makes my life a little easier when people don't have to mispronounce it," he said with a laugh.

"My name comes from my background. My dad was born in Albania. ... It's something my siblings have called me, and it just stayed. As a youth player, it was just very easy. Everyone resorts to nicknames when someone has too long of a name."

After starring for Rutgers University, Duka was chosen eighth overall by the Columbus Crew in the first round of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft.
Dilly Duka in his MLS playing days in Montreal

"That changes your life because now you're moving to another state and you make these new friends and you have these friends for life,” he said. “I look back at it and there's nothing I would do different, because along the way you meet incredible people that you still have in your life way after your career."

He went on to play for the Chicago Fire, Montreal Impact, and the Columbus Crew again before finishing his MLS career with the Red Bulls in 2017.

There’s no doubt that Duka lived his dream.

"I wanted to play professionally since the age of 10," he said. "You dream and then that day comes. There's always ups and downs. I just appreciate all the organizations that I’ve played for. Achieving that goal to be a professional soccer player also molded me for who I am today."

After leading FC Motown to the 2018 NPSL National Final – the team lost to Miami FC 2 – Duka played with Partizani Tirana in Albania, the country of his father's birth. That team won the Kategoria Superiore title (Albania’s first division) before participating in the UEFA Champions League qualifying rounds and the Europa League in 2019.

"It was another amazing experience for so many different reasons,” Duka told "We had four or five players that were bought by clubs throughout Europe and Asia."

Since returning to the States, Duka has taken care of family matters and is ready to start another new chapter in his own hometown with Motown The first page of that chapter will be written against NYCFC II – the Division III professional side of MLS NEXT Pro – at Montclair State University on March 21.
FC Motown in a 2022 Open Cup shootout in Rochester

"The way I look at it is we're playing an MLS reserve team," Duka said. "Whether they're young or in their 20s, or teenagers, you expect them to have some future talent that's going to contribute to the first team. We're going to play against a very fit team that's going to have some very talented players.

“It’s going to be a challenge for us," Duka added.

Key among the Motown players are two Haitian internationals – defender Samuel Pompee and winger Maudwindo Germain. Former Red Bulls II forward Joe Fala and defender Mike da Fonte, who also has MLS experience with the Rapids, are also important members of the New Jersey-based team that has a player pool of close to 40-50 from which to choose.

"We're not young by any means,” Duka laughed. “We have an older group. They all carry some type of experience, whether it's playing semi-pro, in the professional ranks or abroad.

"If we have everyone, we should be able to compete," he added.

Getting the Mix Right

"Our lineups vary depending on who’s available," said Duka of the constant curse of coaching at the amateur level – even its tippy-top. "In the last scrimmage, we played Red Bulls from MLS NEXT Pro, but we didn't have nine out of 11 potential starters. We didn't do so well. When you're missing that many players it's difficult to have any type of chemistry.

“We have a good understanding of how we're going to play against New York City FC,” he went on. “We're just hoping that everyone can make it to that game.”

If anyone is thinking of Duka lacing up his boots once again to produce some more Open Cup magic, don't hold your breath. Though he’s only 34, Duka says – emphatically – his playing days are over.

"I don't have the legs…to play at a high level anymore,” he insisted.

That may be so. But if his passion, tactics and experience can fuel his players, Dilly Duka might well be able to inspire his hometown club to another against-the-odds Open Cup win.

Michael Lewis can be reached at and @Soccerwriter on Twitter. His book (ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers) is available for purchase.