Emiliano Dudar has enjoyed a long, fruitful career. But the D.C. United defender still thinks he has plenty to prove.
The Argentina native played the past three years with decorated Swiss side BSC Young Boys, earning recognition as the league's top defender during the 2009-10 campaign. While the 6-foot-4 center back's career nearly was derailed in September 2010 when he suffered a concussion that briefly put him into a medically induced coma, he returned after a three-month absence to start another 17 games that season.
This past fall, however, Dudar was relegated to the bench by new Young Boys manager Christian Gross. Frustrated with his lack of playing time, the 30-year-old set his sights on a new challenge. In January, he signed on a free transfer with a United team that allowed the fourth-most goals in MLS last season.
For Dudar, it's the 13th club, sixth country and third continent his career has taken him to since he debuted at age 19. Yet as far as he's concerned, he's back to square one.
"It's basically starting over again in my career," Dudar said via a translator. "I want to prove to myself that the coach I had before was wrong and that I am able to start and that I can play."
Earning his first start with D.C. in a scoreless draw at the Vancouver Whitecaps last weekend, Dudar used his aerial prowess, smart distribution and soothing influence to help United hold the home side without a shot on goal. It was a seamless transition into the lineup that didn't surprise coach Ben Olsen, who said he could tell Dudar "likes the big stage."
"It's a difficult thing to do, to step into a back line when you haven't been working with those guys as much, but he's done a great job," right back Robbie Russell said. "His size is a big plus for us. He's very calm on the ball, and he's good at helping us keep a little more possession. As long as we can work him to his strengths, it's a good addition for us."
Although Dudar's resume includes experience in the prestigious UEFA Champions League and Europa League, he still lost the battle for a starting job out of United's preseason as Olsen went with incumbents Dejan Jakovic and Brandon McDonald at center back for the club's first two matches.
"I knew when I was coming here I wasn't going to be an indisputable starter," Dudar acknowledged. "I knew I was going to have to fight for my spot on the team. I took it as something natural and I tried to approach it the best way."
He didn't have to wait long for his chance. Jakovic suffered a groin strain during United's second game, giving way to Dudar for the second half of a 3-1 loss at Los Angeles. With Jakovic still not fully recovered, Dudar is poised to again start Friday when United (0-2-1) host FC Dallas (1-1-1) at RFK Stadium.
Dudar showed a glimpse of what he can bring to the table in D.C.'s draw with Vancouver, containing 6-foot-4 striker Eric Hassli, one of the few forwards in the league who can counter him physically, while also developing a rapport in central defense with McDonald.
"It's a work in progress," McDonald said. "If you watch the tape and how we were moving together in defense, his strengths and my strengths, my communication and his height in being able to handle a guy like Hassli in this league, it's big time for us."
As Dudar points out, making the jump to a new league and culture always is a challenge. And the language barrier, of course, makes matters all the more difficult. But a fresh start also means ample opportunity to progress, and it's a tradeoff Dudar has embraced.
"I do think I still can improve a lot more," Dudar said. "But the more minutes I have, the more comfortable I'm feeling on the team. I hope to keep growing and be able to give the best that I can give to the team, and that's what I'm working and training hard for each day."
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