They call this “The Land of Opportunity” for a reason.
Luke Boden was lured across the pond by the promise of a fresh start with an upstart, third-division club based in sunny Florida. It was no sure thing, but it has turned out to be exactly what he needed.
Like so many before him, Boden always dreamed of playing professional soccer. As a youngster, he was lucky enough to grow and play for his hometown club, Sheffield Wednesday. After rising through the ranks of SWFC’s academy, he made his debut with the first team at just 17, and the future looked bright.
Sheffield struggled, though, barely managing to stay in English football’s second division. Boden bounced around England, on loan three times in two years, and made just 31 appearances from 2006 to 2011.
“It was alright when you’re 17, 18, 19,” said Boden of his lack of playing time, “and then you get to that 20, 21 and it’s like, ‘I really need to be playing games now.’ Thankfully, the guy that looked after me at the time knew Adrian (Heath).”
Heath convinced his countryman to leave his family and friends to chase his dream of playing professional soccer. It was a risk, coming to a brand new club in a foreign country.
Four years later, that risk has certainly paid off.
“The first thing you notice when you actually get to Orlando is how friendly everybody is so it really made it easy – I mean nothing’s easy, leaving family and friends – but they made it easier to settle down here.”
Bodz, as he’s known around the Club, ended up living with Lewis Neal, another Englishman making the transition to America and USL and one of Boden’s best friends.
“We definitely made it easier on each other.”
His performance in USL, where he made 87 appearances over four years, earned him a spot on Orlando City’s first MLS roster. It was an accomplishment, but a spot on the roster doesn’t mean a spot on the starting XI, and Boden made just one start in first eight games of the season.
“It’s disappointing but at the end of the day, the manager makes the decision and you have to take that and carry on working hard and giving 100 percent every time you play,” he said.
With the loss of Kevin Molino, Adrian Heath decided to move Brek Shea into the midfield and thrust Boden into action at left back. Bodz has now started four consecutive games, even registering an assist in Orlando City’s thrilling 2-2 draw against New England.
“Thankfully, my chance came along and I took it. I have to keep doing that every game. With the amount talent that we’ve got on the team, everybody’s under pressure for their position, and I think that pushes us.”
“I think he’s done an excellent job,” said Adrian Heath. “We knew what Luke is all about; we’ve had him for four years, so I’m not surprised that he’s come in and is doing well. He had to wait patiently for his chance, but the important part now is for Luke not to drop his standards and make sure that he maintains this high level.”
After a challenging start, the Lions are beginning to hit their stride. Still, the differences between USL and MLS are drastic, and Boden, like the rest of the first-time MLS-ers, is still adjusting to the high level of competition.
“The first thing you notice is the standard of the players. There are some good, good players in MLS,” said Boden. “It really shows why it is the top league in America. When teams come over (from Europe), you see the competition between teams over here to Europe and there’s not much difference at all.”
“The main difference for me is playing quicker and that’s something I’m adapting to. I’m not fully adapted, I’m still learning – I don’t think you ever stop learning in this game – but at the moment, I think it’s going alright.”
One thing Bodz hasn’t had to adapt to is the fan support.
“We’ve got a fantastic following and fantastic fans. We’re really getting involved in the community so you can tell what a family-oriented club it really is.”
Playing in MLS is the chance of a lifetime, and to fulfill that dream, life demands taking risks. Luckily for Boden, coming to “The Land of Opportunity” and Orlando City has certainly paid off.