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Doyle finds home in Chattanooga after stints in England, MLS

By Rob Harvey, 06/05/19, 10:30AM EDT

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In the summer of the 2010, Conor Doyle had a decision to make.

Graduating from high school a semester early, Doyle had accepted a scholarship to play soccer at Creighton University. Doyle arrived at Creighton in the spring semester, working out with the team and appearing in all seven spring exhibition games, scoring three goals.

However, before Doyle could begin the regular season with the Blue Jays, he got a call from Derby County, a member of the EFL Championship, the second tier of English soccer.

Derby wanted Doyle to train with the team in the offseason and compete for a spot on the team. Doyle, who was 18 at the time, spent the summer training with them and, when a spot opened up for him, had to decide between playing in college or playing professionally, a dream of his from the beginning.

Doyle, who is now a member of Chattanooga Red Wolves SC, eventually chose to play in England, but it wasn’t a decision that Doyle immediately knew how to make.

“It was always a dream of mine going over there to play in England,” Doyle said. “And it just kind of happened that I went over there when I was 16 and trained with them for a little bit and then they asked me to come back over when I was 18.

“But it definitely wasn’t as easy as a decision as I thought it was going to be because I had already spent a semester at Creighton and enjoyed it and we had a good team. So it took a few days to make a decision but, at the end of the day, playing in England was too good of a chance to pass up.”

A native of McKinney, Texas, Doyle had soccer in his blood from the get-go as his dad, David Doyle, was a professional indoor soccer player. Attending all of his games, Conor knew that he wanted a career in soccer but didn’t know how long it was going to take for him to get to the top.

Doyle’s journey to Derby County was a step in that direction. Doyle spent two years with Derby, making 22 appearances for the team. Coming from playing college soccer to playing professionally in a country where soccer is their primary sport, it was a culture change for him.

“The passion for the game and the knowledge of the game is more progressed over there since they have had it for a lot longer,” Doyle said. “On the field, the game is a little bit quicker and sharper over there, especially since I was coming from college. It’s a little easier too because the travel isn’t as bad and it doesn’t get as hot.”

Since Derby was in the EFL Championship at the time, Doyle never played the bigger teams in England like his favorite growing up, Manchester United. However, Doyle did face Stoke City in the FA Cup, taking on players such as Peter Crouch. Some of Doyle’s Derby teammates are still with the team who are now coached by English soccer legend Frank Lampard and who just missed out on promotion to the Premier League this season.

After the 2012-2013 season and wanting a change of scenery, Doyle went to Colorado to train with the Rapids in hopes of being loaned out there. The Rapids President, Tim Hinchey, was a former Derby executive, so Doyle spent a couple months in Colorado getting comfortable with the team. But before he could be signed, the MLS stepped in.

Per  MLS rules, US youth international players are required to be made available to all MLS teams through a lottery. D.C. United, who had the worst record at the time, won the lottery and acquired Doyle for the rest of the season from Derby with the chance to buy him permanently at the end of the year.

“I was kind of angry at the process in terms of how long it took for everything to get done,” Doyle said. “But my three years in D.C. were probably some of my favorite if not my favorite years playing soccer. I got to play a lot, we had a really good group of guys and we won a bunch of games.”

At D.C., Doyle made 66 appearances, scoring four times and tallying an assist. During Doyle’s three years there, D.C. United won the 2013 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and made the playoffs twice, qualifying both times in the CONCACAF Champions League.

The Champions League takes the top clubs in North America, Central America and the Caribbean and puts them together in competition. While in that competition, Doyle faced off against a figure that he would team up with down the line in Chattanooga.

“We actually ended up playing Tim’s (Hankinson) team a couple times in Montego Bay,” Doyle said. “It was such a cool experience to go to places like Costa Rica and Jamaica and play in those environments and see how big soccer is there.”

After his stint with D.C. United, Doyle was traded to the Colorado Rapids where he made 10 appearances before being loaned out to the USL Championship side Colorado Springs Switchbacks.

From there, Doyle moved around to three separate teams hoping to find a permanent spot. However, two of the teams folded and in 2018, leaving Doyle without a team.

That’s when the General Manager of Jacksonville Armada FC got Doyle in contact with the front office of Chattanooga Red Wolves SC, and the rest was history.

“I am happy to be here, and it’s a cool city,” Doyle said. “We have had an up and down season so far but we’re right in the thick of things so we’re having a fun time.”

In his 10 appearances with the Red Wolves, Doyle has scored two goals for the squad, including scoring in Chattanooga’s most recent game against Toronto.

“I kind of grew up being a striker and my dad was a striker so scoring goals is kind of in my DNA,” Doyle said. “I haven’t scored too many in my professional career so it’s nice to get on the score sheet. To get one in the first half of that game to put us up was a great feeling.”

Doyle looks to add to his goal total on Saturday as the Red Wolves travel to Statesboro, Georgia to take on South Georgia Tormenta FC. That game kicks off at 8 p.m. ET and can be seen on ESPN+.

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