Spartans' Doyle following uncle’s footballing path

Jun. 02, 2013 @ 06:28 AM

A thirst for pounding the ball in the back of the net is an inherent trait in the Doyle clan. Darren Doyle thinks he has a knack for scoring, just like his uncle, David, did.

Both are attackers at heart. David Doyle, standing 5-foot-11, won’t be confused with anything but a striker. Darren, measuring in at about an inch shorter, fancies himself more of a midfield maestro. He liked to get his teammates involved in his three seasons at Kerr-Vance, regardless of his position on the pitch.

“If someone tells me to play somewhere, I’m going to play,” said Darren, a Louisburg College recruit. “If it helps the team, I’ll do my best to try to win. I don’t like losing. I don’t think anybody likes losing.”

Darren has a little Arjen Robben in his game. He relies heavily on his left foot, not unlike the Dutch winger who scored and assisted in Bayern Munich’s recent win over Borussia Dortmund in the European Champions League final.

Darren reckons he might have an edge on his uncle.

“I might be a little bit better,” Darren tauntingly suggests.

“I can kick with both feet,” David retorts. “Unlike him.”

Darren knew that was coming.

The differences in their style of play are clear. The contrast in the eras in which they played American high school soccer is unmistakable. But their journeys are remarkably similar. Two teenagers faced with a difficult decision: Stay in their native Ireland or take a chance and move to the U.S., move to Henderson, to pursue an education while playing the game they adore.

Both took the risk.

Shipping out to Henderson

David Doyle moved to the U.S., in part, to get an education. Shortly upon his arrival, he was giving his Vance Academy teammates an education in soccer.

Doyle arrived in Henderson in 1981. Soccer was somewhat of an afterthought around the country.

The North American Soccer League had enjoyed success in some U.S. markets. The New York Cosmos attracted huge crowds at Giants Stadium as well as on the road, boasting the world’s greatest player, Pele, along with the likes of his Brazilian compatriot Carlos Alberto, Italian striker Giorgio Chinaglia and West German star Franz Beckenbauer.

But the league ultimately folded in 1984 and the U.S. Men’s National Team hadn’t qualified for a World Cup since 1950.

Doyle didn’t speak with his teammates about the soccer world much. The conversation probably wouldn’t have lasted long. His only outlet to news from the game was through dated newspapers sent from home or PBS’s “Soccer Made in Germany” highlight show hosted by British commentator Toby Charles.

Doyle had devoted his life to playing the world’s game. In Ireland, like most countries in Europe, football was and ever will be king. His Spartan teammates were mostly two or three-sport athletes.

“I was miles ahead of the kids I was playing with because that’s all I did was play football,” said Doyle.

“They were playing basketball and baseball. Obviously the game was much more developed back at home than it was here.”

Doyle grew up in Artane, a Northside suburb of Dublin, and was recruited to Vance Academy by a teacher in Ireland that played for Spartan soccer coach Charlie Smith in Virginia.

To say the lifestyle in Henderson was different would be an understatement, according to Doyle. He quickly grew tired of having to repeat himself, his Irish brogue confounding the Americans.

“But the lads that I ended up playing with and going to school with were very good and accepted me and made it very easy to fit in and stay,” said Doyle. “That’s one of the reasons why I ended up staying as long as I did.”

Vance Academy had already been to the state soccer final in 1980. Doyle led them back in 1981 as the Spartans fell to Durham Academy in the title match.

In the spring, Doyle picked up the game of baseball, “cricket with a glove,” as he called it. Wanting more action than his outfield position provided, he convinced his coach to let him play catcher.

Soccer was still Doyle’s sport of course. He received “tons” of letters from colleges eager to sign him on. He was recruited by legendary North Carolina women’s coach Anson Dorrance, who also coached the men at that time.

The Tar Heels offered everything but board. So Doyle chose Campbell. He had an offer to play professionally in England’s third division, but decided to go back to school and completed a Hall of Fame career, leading the country in scoring his senior season.

Major League Soccer was still about a decade away from holding its first match when Doyle finished his Campbell playing days. With limited American outdoor options, Doyle was selected third overall by the Kansas City Comets in the 1987 Major Indoor Soccer League Draft.

Doyle was named the 1987-1988 MISL Rookie of the Year before beginning an illustrious career with the Dallas Sidekicks in 1991. There, he was a six-time all-star, winning a pair of league scoring titles.

The Sidekicks retired Doyle’s jersey last year, the same No. 11 that Darren donned at KVA.

Doyle went on to coach with the Dallas Texans, an elite youth club that has produced more than 20 professional soccer players including Tottenham’s Clint Dempsey and Doyle’s son, Conor, currently under contract with second-tier English Championship side Derby County.

David Doyle, 47, is currently the head coach at Flower Mound High School near Dallas and also coaches youth teams with Liverpool FC America.

A few years ago, David got a call from an old Vance Academy teammate, William Dickerson. Dickerson wanted to know if David knew of any foreigners that might be interested in playing soccer at KVA.

David did.

Making the most of an opportunity

Darren’s father, Paul, remembers what it was like when his brother left home. It was big news that one of the young lads was headed to America for school and football.

“He was pretty well-known in the area from playing with the local sides in the area anyway,” said Paul, 53. “So a lot of people had interest in what was going to happen to him.”

David didn’t want to be 47 in Dublin and wondering what would have happened had he gone to America when he was 15.

“If I went and didn’t like it, at least I’d have no regrets,” David said.

Darren had made up his mind that he wasn’t leaving the Dublin suburb of Swords. But he changed his mind after speaking with David. He didn’t want any “what ifs” haunting him either.

Darren came to KVA as a sophomore, graduating Saturday, exactly 30 years after David did, from what was then known as Vance Academy before a merger with Kerr Lake School.

“I think it was hard for us to let him go,” said Paul, who played in the junior leagues, just below Ireland’s top flight, “but I think it was a lot easier for us than our mom and dad because we knew where Darren was going.”

David lived with the Scalione, Peace and Herford families in the Henderson Country Club neighborhood. Darren has called the same area home, staying with the Hoyles, Irvins and now with the family of Scott and Caroline Burnette.

Darren doesn’t have to write letters home. He can Skype. His parents were looking at prom pictures within hours of the event.

Darren isn’t so hard to understand anymore. Listen to him speak and he might be mistaken for a Vance County native.

The soccer culture has changed too. Major League Soccer has sustained moderate success and continues to grow while the U.S. has appeared in every World Cup since 1990.

Soccer news is one click away for Darren. He can talk about the sport with his American friends. They know who Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar are.

“I didn’t think it was really that popular because they have five or six other sports that they’re more interested in,” said Darren. “I didn’t think it was as popular as it was going to be.”

Like his uncle, Darren picked up another sport in the spring, shining on the lacrosse field as one of the Spartans’ top attackers. His coach and host, Scott Burnette, thinks he could have played on the college level had his skills had more time to develop.

Not that he could ever give up soccer.

Doyle finished the 2012 soccer season with 22 goals and 26 assists, guiding the Spartans to a 22-win season that ended in the N.C. Independent School Athletic Association 2-A semifinals. KVA had a perfect league record and Doyle was the conference’s player of the year, forming a dynamic duo at the top the Spartan attack with William Dickerson’s son, Brandon, the team’s leader in goals scored.

“Darren has an unusual passion for the game,” said KVA head coach Tommy Farmer. “He lives it all the time. He wants to get a soccer ball and go to the field all the time. If he can’t find anyone else, he’ll kick it around by himself.”

“He reads the game so well,” added Farmer. “He anticipates either how his teammates are going to play the ball or how his opponents will play the ball.”

David believes that vision separated himself and separates Darren from their American peers.
Darren joins a Louisburg program that appeared in the National Junior College Athletic Association final last season.

He aspires to play professionally like his uncle, but is just as interested in having an education to fall back on.

At least he has opportunity, Paul says. Had he not taken David’s advice, he might still be in Dublin wondering “what if?”

“If footballing doesn’t work out, you get an education,” said Paul. “And God knows what can happen.”

Contact the writer at kholtzman@hendersondispatch.com.