Player Spotlight

German-American Air Force Officer Pursues Pro Soccer

The 23-year-old midfielder played alongside Toni Kroos in Bayern Munich's youth academy and later came to the Air Force Academy to pursue a military career. But he still hopes pro soccer is in the cards.
BY Broke Tunstall Posted
January 27, 2015
12:00 PM
KEVIN DURR DIDN'T REALIZE how much he’d miss the game. Now he might get another shot to pursue it.

Growing up in Germany, the son of a United States Army officer and a German mother, Durr played in the youth systems of local professional clubs, including spells at both Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich. Had he gone a different path, maybe he’d have been yet another of the German-Americans who have gone on to play for the U.S. national team—like Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, and Julian Green.

But like many European players who have come stateside, he wanted a professional option outside of soccer and instead of seeking out a pro contract when he finished high school, Durr opted for college soccer while pursuing a degree that would give him a better shot at a career outside of the game.

“My brother (Stefan) played college soccer at (James Madison) and I knew that was something I wanted to do, to be able to play soccer and get an education,” Durr told American Soccer Now.

Growing up in a military family, Durr had a connection to the armed services and he ultimately accepted a commission to the Air Force Academy.

“It wasn’t really because my dad was in the military,” said Durr, whose father retired from the Army as a colonel. “But I came in for a visit and I just really connected with the school, both the campus and the coaches and (future) teammates. I realized what a unique and distinguished institution the Academy is and how big of an opportunity it really was for me to serve my country.”

At Air Force he won multiple conference and regional honors. As a senior in 2012 Durr led the team to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 15 years and because of his clean feet and ability to see the game, emerged as a legitimate pro prospect.

But a service academy education comes with a well-known obligation in the form of a five-year active duty commitment that takes precedent over professional sports. Despite being selected by the Seattle Sounders in the 2013 Major League Soccer draft, other than a brief time in training camp with them that winter, Durr has been unable to pursue the professional career his skill warrants.

“I’ve never been away from the game this much before. People that know me very well know how much soccer has been a part of my life. It’s all I watch on TV, pretty much what I think about all the time away from work,” said Durr, who was picked 54th overall by the Sounders but likely would have gone much higher were it not for his service commitment.

“I miss it so much.”

These days Durr is stationed at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, across town from the Air Force Academy and about 70 miles south of Denver. There, 2nd Lieutenant Durr serves as an acquisitions officer for a unit that tracks long-range ballistic missiles.

“Basically,” Durr attempted to explain to a neophyte, “I make sure the type of radar I work on has the software to ensure the radar has the newest upgrades and works at its highest capabilities.”

Despite his military career coming at the expense of playing pro soccer, Durr says he wouldn’t do it any differently if he could.

“I miss (soccer) more than I thought I would. But I really like being in the Air Force. Yes, those thoughts come out at times but we make the decisions we make. I don’t regret the decision at all,” said Durr, whose English has the slightest hint of an accent that reveals his German upbringing. “I don’t know what could have been (with soccer) but I’m not worried. I truly enjoy and am proud to serve my country. I don’t want to get too philosophical but I feel like I made the right choice.”

Still, Durr’s got a soccer itch and he’s hoping for a chance to scratch it this spring because as fate would have it, there’s an expansion team beginning play this year in the third-division USL Pro—the Colorado Springs Switchbacks—which will be playing a few minutes from where Durr is stationed.

“The first time I heard about it was from (Air Force head coach Doug Hill) about a year and a half ago and I was definitely thrilled,” Durr said. “I knew it was a chance, if I was still stationed in the same place and still in the Air Force, to start playing on a pro team and get a chance to pursue pro soccer. I was so excited. I knew it wouldn’t be as simple as just hopping on a team, but I realized, if the Air Force allows it, it gave me an opportunity to play at a high level on a regular schedule and see where things go from there.”

The Switchbacks held open tryouts last fall and Durr played well and was offered a contract.

“We had a combine of sorts, an open tryout, and he was the best player there by far—he really stood out,” said Switchbacks coach Steve Trittschuh, the former U.S. World Cup and MLS player. “It’s obviously not a simple situation because of the Air Force (commitment), but we’re hoping to work something out where he can play for us. He’d be a nice addition to our team.”

Trittschuh was just finishing a trailblazing stint with Sparta Prague, then the reigning European champions, when Durr was born in the spring of 1991. “I never saw him play, obviously, but I knew the name, that he played in MLS,” said Durr. “But Coach Hill told me all about him, his career. It would be great to play for someone like that and learn from his experiences as a player.”

Durr hasn’t signed a contract. He still needs approval from Air Force superiors to do that and the Switchbacks hope that comes in time to allow him to train with the team during preseason, which begins next month. And what remains to be seen is, if Durr does sign, whether it will be a part-time job he juggles around his service or if he can transition from being on active duty and serve out the remainder of his commitment in the Air Force Reserve or Air National Guard.

There is precedent for both scenarios.

From 2001 to 2003 Rich Cullen, a 2000 Air Force Academy graduate, served as a backup goalkeeper for the Seattle Sounders, then in the second division A-League, while serving on active duty at McChord Air Force Base in nearby Tacoma, Wash. Cullen played 25 games in three seasons for the Sounders as a backup to future MLS goalkeeper Preston Burpo.

“I’ve spoken with Kevin about potentially doing this,” said Cullen, who is now a goalkeeper coach for the women’s program at Eastern Washington University and still serves part-time in the Washington Air National Guard. “It’s not easy. To make it work you have to have a commander that supports you. I was fortunate that I had a commander that thought it was good for the Air Force, to have me playing professionally while I served. But it’s a long day. I’d get up, go to training, then start my Air Force day around 11 or 12 then finish later in the evening after most guys had gone home.”

The Air Force also has a program, called Palace Chase, that allows active duty service members to transition to serving part-time in exchange for extending the length of their commitment. According to the Air National Guard’s website, Durr would be eligible for this program after serving two years of active duty, which in his case, would be at the end of May.

This program was used by Ben Garland, a former Air Force football player who was able to join the Denver Broncos after two seasons of active duty and then switched to the Air National Guard. An offensive lineman, Garland made his NFL debut last fall.

Durr is not guaranteed either option. The Air Force could deny his request to play part-time and acceptance into the Palace Chase program is on a case-by-case basis. But the ensuing positive publicity that Durr’s playing pro soccer would bring the Air Force would likely help his case.

“I think the publicity this brings the Air Force is completely worth it for them to let him do this,” said Cullen. “It shows the type of people the academies get, shows he’s committed to serving, and shows you can serve your country and still play. There’s value to that kind of P.R. that’s good for the military and, specifically, the Air Force.”

Durr says he’s at peace with whatever the Air Force decides. “It’s out of my hands,” he said. “I’ll accept whatever the Air Force tells me to do because that’s what I signed up for.”

Still, there’s no doubt he’d love to give pro soccer a shot. At Bayern Munich’s academy, he played alongside current Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos, who scored a pair of goals for Germany on its way to winning this summer’s World Cup and at Leverkusen he played with Christoph Kramer, a surprise inclusion on the German World Cup team last summer.

At Air Force he played in the same conference—the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (Air Force has since switched to the Western Athletic Conference)—as the Los Angeles Galaxy’s Gyasi Zardes, Real Salt Lake’s Devon Sandoval, and D.C. United’s Nick DeLeon.

“Obviously Toni Kroos is the best player I played with,” said Durr. “But at the Academy I played against some guys who are now in MLS. Playing with and against guys that have gone on to do good things as pros, it makes you want to give it a shot. I want to find out how far I can go and hopefully make it back to MLS or a league in Europe.

"That’s what I want to use this to do.”

Durr admits there might be some rust to shake off. Other than a stint two summers ago with the U.S. entry in the All Military World Cup, Durr hasn’t played much high level soccer since his preseason with the Sounders. “I train with the Academy team and I train on my own, but it’s been tough,” Durr said. “That’s one of the reasons I can’t wait to get back out there.”

There’s a chance Durr won’t be the only pro soccer player in Colorado this year with a military commitment. In this month’s MLS SuperDraft the Colorado Rapids used its 26th overall pick to select Joe Greenspan, an All-America defender from Navy. Greenspan is hoping to delay his Navy deployment until the end of the calendar year, thus enabling him to play in MLS this year after graduating in early June. His plan is to then spend two seasons on active duty and, like Garland and hall of fame basketball player David Robinson, transition to the reserves and play professionally.

“I think what he’s doing and what I’m doing shows there’s talent in the academies," Durr said, "and that you can serve your country and hopefully still get a chance to play professionally.”

Brooke Tunstall is an American Soccer Now contributing editor and ASN 100 panelist. You can follow him on Twitter.

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