“He’s big, he’s bold, he’s 34 years old! Dusty Smith! Dusty Smith!”
Those in attendance at DeKalb County United semipro soccer games this summer may have heard that chant celebrating DKCU’s 34-year-old defender, who roams the pitch with pride and persistence.
The oldest player on the roster and one of two players over the age of 30 on the team, Smith is as active as any of the spry 20-somethings and teenagers roaming the grass at NIU’s Outdoor Recreation Sports Complex this summer.
“Just the way I was in high school. That’s how I played,” Smith said. “I’m a nonstop player. I just love the game. I want to be involved all the time. If I’m sitting back relaxing, that ain’t me. I’m always running.”
DKCU coach Mike Gecan relies on his versatile elder statesman defender to be the most vocal person from the defense. He also allows Smith freedom to trade places with teammates on the wing and play more of a facilitating role in the midfield and while flanking his familiar right sideline. From there, he can best transfer messages that Gecan wants to get across to his team. Gecan stresses how important Smith’s persistent energy and talking is.
“Simple communication, getting them to talk more has been the big thing. That’s been his emphasis, is trying to get them more comfortable, because we have a lot of young guys,” Gecan said. “For him to to take those guys, pull them aside and ask for more out of them or explain what we’re doing or simplifying it for them has made a huge impact for us this season.”
Shane Toms is a 27-year-old defender for DKCU from Sycamore (2010 graduate) who now resides in Genoa. Along the back line, he has relished in the leadership the elder defensive players have had to showcase.
“It’s cool because we have to take a leadership role more because [of] trying to help some of the other guys learn some stuff and what it’s like to play older guys,” Toms said.
Raising three kids and being away from his wife in Dixon, where Smith currently works and resides, has taken somewhat of a toll, but it hasn’t dampened Smith’s enthusiasm when taking to the field.
“All you’ve got to do is watch me play, and you know the pride I got. I’m 34, and I’m out there busting my butt.”
Having played his high school ball at Dixon and collegiately competed at College of DuPage and Kishwaukee College, Smith has since played in competitive rec leagues in Dixon and DeKalb with some indoor soccer and other rec soccer adventures to boot.
When Smith heard about the plans for the new club, he figured he’d see what he had left in the tank. He also hopes being a semi-pro player from Dixon that he can be an example for younger players from his city.
“Soccer is my life. I have a huge passion for it. It was an opportunity that I wanted to try that I didn’t have when I was younger, so I just wanted to see if I still had it,” Smith said. “I just play like ‘Eye of the Tiger.’ I’m a warrior.”
DKCU is 5-2-3 and sits atop the United Premier Soccer League with a record of 2-2-1 in the Midwest Conference Central Division.
“Sometimes as a kid, if we had something, it would have been great to come out and watch games,” Toms said. “It’s nice to be able to come out here, and they can watch grown-ups play soccer.”
As DKCU races toward the end of a quick summer season, the aspiration of this year’s squad, in its second season, are much higher than a year ago.
“Everybody’s got a winning attitude. For me, it’s probably the last year I’ll play,” Smith said. “I just want to see the club progress. I want us to get to state or nationals or whatever it is and just progress.”
For Alberto Martinez, a 19 year-old striker from Beloit, Wisconsin, who makes the trip of about an hour for training and playing, there’s reason for optimism. His two goals in a 3-1 win over division opponents Croatian Eagles showed the results of improved cohesion from DKCU’s front line. One of those assists came from a Smith cross into the box that Martinez headed home.
“He always lets us know what we’re doing wrong,” Martinez said. “He always picks me up, [we] always pick each other up. He’s a good leader. All the veterans here, it’s good to have veterans on the team.”
Lukasz Gulka added the other goal on a first-half header.
“This year it’s much better,” Martinez said. “Last year we [were] just kind of getting the hang of things with how semi-pro works. But this year I think we’ve got a good team, good players at every position – offense and defense.”
Toms is one of several local players contributing to that success. With starting goalie Patrik Smith of Sycamore providing a boost for the club this summer. Others young players, like Leo Lenth (DeKalb), make up much of the U-23 roster that began play this summer for DKCU. Gecan believes it is important that the team gains an identity with their supporters and play on the field.
“We’ve been pretty consistent at scoring early for the last four games, five games now, which is something that has become one of our trademarks,” Gecan said. “We’re definitely possessing the ball, which we’ve been doing well all season, but we’re finally doing it in the attacking half now.”