ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. â€” In less than two hours in December, fullback Chris Duvall bounced from the New York Red Bulls to Minnesota United to the Montreal Impact.
“It was an interesting day for sure,” the 25-year-old Georgia native said of the Dec. 13 expansion draft. “I’ve never been through the trade process. I got drafted to New York (in 2014) and been there every since.
“But I think it’s a valuable experience. It’s new and you get to try a new country and a new city and a system of play that you’ve never seen before, meet a whole lot of new guys. It’s a little bit stressful to know you have to pick up and move all your things to another place but wrapping your head around being somewhere new, it’s an exciting prospect.”
Duvall, a Wake Forest product who calls Atlanta home, did have someone to turn to for intel on Montreal. His godfather is Billy (White Shoes) Johnson, a former NFL receiver and star kick returner who spent the 1981 season north of the border with the Alouettes.
“He’s been my next-door neighbour and our families are very close,” said Duvall. “We do Thanksgiving and Christmas together. So he’s definitely been a mentor in my life.”
Johnson, considered one of the originators of the touchdown dance in football, happily filled Duvall in on Montreal.
“He loved Montreal and one of his sons was born there … He was excited for me to go there,” said Duvall. “Being from the South, I was a little nervous to come this far north but he really put my mind at ease.”
Duvall has already found a Montreal apartment and spent some time exploring the city.
The Impact are happy to have him after a domino-like expansion draft day that saw Atlanta United take Montreal fullback Donny Toia first before Minnesota grabbed Duvall from the Red Bulls. Toia was then shipped to Orlando City and Duvall traded to Montreal, which also got some allocation money with Costa Rican midfielder Johan Venegas going the other way to Minnesota.
With Montreal, which likes its fullbacks to join the attack, Duvall is battling Hassoun Camara for the right fullback position. The 33-year-old Camara, who can also play centre back, won the position off Toia â€” whose campaign was not helped by injury â€” as last season wore on.
“He’s a very nice guy and he’s a leader in this team,” Duvall said of Camara. “More than anything, I’m taking tips and just trying to learn any way I can. Whether it’s him or any of the older guys, they’ve all got feedback for me. I want to grow and progress and improve my game and then Coach (Mauro Biello) gets to make his decision. It’s not really on me or Hassoun or really anyone else.
“We just go out and play our best and hope for the best.”
Assistant coach Jason Di Tullio says both players are doing well in camp.
“We’re going to take it day by day and see what happens throughout the season,” he said.
Camara started 31 games for Montreal in the regular season and playoffs last year while Duvall started 22 for the Red Bulls.
Duvall has joined a team whose core is largely intact from last year, when the Impact lost the Eastern Conference final in overtime to Toronto. But he says he has not felt like a stranger in Montreal, other than getting used to a new language.
“Inside this team, it’s a good group of guys so there aren’t really any strangers … Everyone’s very welcoming and friendly. So that hasn’t really been a problem for me, thankfully. And even around the city, guys are willing to show me around and open their doors to me. It’s been a really easy transition.”
Duvall and Montreal’s left fullback, Ambroise Oyonga, also played a year together with the Red Bulls in 2014,
While a Georgia native, Duvall does have some links to Canada. The Red Bulls used a draft pick acquired from Toronto FC in a December 2013 trade to take Duvall in the second round (22nd) overall of the 2014 SuperDraft.
The swap saw the draft pick and midfielder Bobby Convey go to Toronto in exchange for the 15th overall pick in the 2014 draft â€” which Toronto subsequently traded to Philadelphia along with allocation money to take defender Nick Hagglund with the 10th overall pick â€” and a 2016 third-round pick (which turned out to be current TFC2 midfielder Mitch Taintor).
Duvall made his MLS debut on May 17, 2014, against Toronto.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press