Think you know your favorite Independence players? We bet you don't know jack! This week, we sat down with team captain Bilal Duckett to find out all about his professional career, future plans, and why he loves Charlotte.
How did you end up playing in Charlotte?
I played in college at Notre Dame, then I got drafted in the MLS Super Draft to the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2011. Took an injury, played for Harrisburg in 2012, then signed for the New England Revolution in 2013. Got sent down on loan to the Rochester Rhinos for a bit, then finished out the season with the Revs. Came to Charlotte to play for the Eagles for a season and then I went out and played in Sacramento for a few months before coming back to Charlotte to play for the Independence.
Besides Charlotte teams, what's been your favorite team to play for?
They've all been such different experiences. Vancouver was my first professional team so that's always gonna hold a special place in my heart. We had a really good locker room in New England. I still talk to a lot of those guys day in and day out.
Are there any notable players you've played with or against in the past, or any notable stadiums you've played in?
I played with Jun (Marques-Davidson) when I was with Vancouver, so I guess he's notable. I played against Thierry Henry when I was with the Revs. He was always kind of a childhood hero of mine so that was a really special moment. Playing in Seattle's stadium in front of like 46,000 was great. Playing in front of a sell out at Portland was awesome. Those were both really special experiences.
What has been the highlight of your professional career?
Honestly getting to lead these guys is very special to me. We've got an incredibly talented group. I talked about how good our locker room was in New England but this locker room is every bit as good if not better. Guys are invested in each other's lives off the field and that's special. I listed I don't know how many teams off the top of my head that I've played for but it's rare that teams talk about being a family but actually act like it as well.
What's your favorite thing about Charlotte in general?
The growth. The possibility. A big reason I came back to Charlotte was, when I was playing for the Eagles in 2014, it was a World Cup year. You saw how the city came around soccer. You saw the potential for soccer in the city. Since I've lived here, I've seen the Uptown area, the South End area, the Noda and Plaza Midwood areas explode. It's exciting to see the city grow and change. It's still developing its identity but it's exciting to see how quickly things are changing and how proud people who move to Charlotte become of Charlotte.
Do you see an MLS future in Charlotte?
I think it's got the potential and a lot of the right ingredients. Obviously those are decisions that are made way above my pay grade, but I think the strongest element to any potential MLS bid regardless of city is unity. Outside of having the money, because each city that puts in an MLS bid is going to have the money, but how unified the city is, the city's culture, how much people want it and how the existing soccer community in whatever city it is, how they mold around it and take that as their own.
Do you have any future plans for whenever your playing career ends?
Future plans change everyday. My college degree is in IT management. I've always had a passion for technology so I do love things tech-related. I do a bit of web design and web development on the side. If I'm gonna stay in the game, I'd love to stay in a leadership position. I don't know what that looks like, I don't know that I've taken to coaching in the same way as Enzo (Martinez), Alex (Martinez), Jorge (Herrera), and Henry (Kalungi) have, but I like the business aspect of it, the more behind the scenes aspect. That appeals to me as well. It just kind of depends on which direction I go in. I'm also pretty passionate about trying to make a difference in the community. You can do that as a businessman but you can also just do that as a volunteer or a progressive organizer. We've rolled out this fundraiser called Tackling Consent. That's been going really well. Last time I checked, we'd raised like $800 in two weeks which is a really good start. Hopefully it's exponential growth the way the model is set up. Somewhere along one of those three paths.
What about modeling, seeing as you've done a bit of it in the past?
I don't think that's a career path for me. I've always been a little bit of a sneaker head. I could sell clothes, but I don't know that I wanna be the face of clothes or shoes, but that'd be cool too.
What advice would you give Charlotteans?
Support the Independence. That's the biggest thing. I'd encourage people in Charlotte to be weird. Seriously, be weird. There are certain neighborhoods in Charlotte where you can see a certain type of person. It's easy to just kinda go with the flow, but go against the grain a bit.