If there is one player that showcases what Orlando City are about as a club, from the ground up, it's Luke Boden. With many MLS expansion teams, someone waltzes in with a large cheque book, whilst Don Garber gleefully rubs his hands together. This wasn't the case for our Lions. We earned our MLS status through blood, sweat and tears. And Luke Boden was there for it all. A key player in the 2011 and 2013 Championship wins, and a bedrock of Adrian Heath's MLS squad. The Englishman will forever be a part of this club's very fabric.
We caught up with Luke to chat about growing up playing for his boyhood club, moving to Orlando City at such an important stage of his career and what it was like to share a dressing room with Kaká...
First of all, Luke, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. It’s great to catch up with you. You grew up in Sheffield, England. The big question first, United or Wednesday?!
That’s a big first question. I’m a Sheffield Wednesday fan, all of my family are big Wednesday fans.
A lot is often made of the dedication and professionalism needed to succeed at the highest level in professional football. What, if any, tips would you give to any youngsters looking to make their way in the game? And how old were you when you realised you could make a career in football?
The biggest tip I could give anybody aspiring to be a professional footballer would be this; stick to your strengths. Find what you are good at and stick to it, don’t over complicate the game, or try to be a player you are not. Study people in your position that have similar strengths and look how they use them.
You started your career as a youngster coming through the Sheffield Wednesday academy. How was it making your debut, for a club as big as Wednesday, in the EFL Championship? And how did that experience set you up for the rest of your career?
Playing for my hometown team was amazing; but it also came with a lot of pressure from my family. I wanted to do well, and I didn’t want to let them down. Making my debut was an amazing experience, it was a real eye opener to be on the field playing with and against men. It was a completely different experience to playing in the youth team, it’s all about winning and doing anything it takes to do so. I think this was important for me growing up. You can’t be coached to be a winner, it has to come from within, and I think these experiences do that.
You had several loan spells during your time with Wednesday, most notably with Chesterfield and Northampton Town. How do you think those experiences benefited you later in your career, particularly when you first moved to the United States with Orlando City?
It is difficult going on loan, jumping into a team for a month with team-mates you don’t even know. Typically, if you move to another club you get a pre-season to get to know each other personally and know how one another play. But loans are very different in this way, thrown in the deep end so to speak. I didn’t particularly enjoy it to be honest, I just wanted to play for Wednesday and that was my ultimate goal.
You made the move to the City Beautiful in 2011, how did that move come about? And just how exciting a prospect was it? Joining a new team, in a new league and country? Especially as the club itself was very much in its infancy?
I knew it was my time to leave Wednesday, I was under a manager that didn’t really fancy me to be in the team. I had made my debut at 17 and everything seemed to stop after that. I didn’t play football to just sit and watch games, and maybe play a few minutes here and there, so I needed to leave. The guy who was looking after me at the time knew Adrian and knew that they were going to build something special in Orlando. When the question came up about moving to Orlando to play football I jumped at the chance. I just wanted to play and if it meant moving to another country to do it; then so be it.
You were an important part of some of Orlando City’s most successful years, winning the USL Pro Championship in 2011 and 2013. What was that experience like? And what do you think made that team so special?
We had a great front office, great manage and, great players. But even more importantly we had good people in the changing rooms. We were a very tight knit group. And I think that translated to the field on game day. We did everything together as a team off the field, which I think is very important. In addition to this, training was intense every day. When it was time to put the work in, we all bought into Adrian's ideas. We were all winners, and we all worked extremely hard to succeed.
You made the step-up to Major League Soccer with the club in 2015. The USL seems to be improving in quality year on year. Just how big a step-up is MLS from USL? And how did you find that transition?
I didn’t think it was that big of a jump in terms of the technical side of the game. Without a doubt though, the physical side of the game in regards to speed was something I had to work on. I wasn’t gifted with blistering speed and so I had to try and defend smarter. There are a lot of very quick players in MLS and dealing with this kind of pace at times can be tricky. Other than that I don’t really feel the difference was that great.
You played alongside Kaká, how was that? And just how good is he? I also wondered if you could speak to just how important big name stars like Kaká are to growing MLS globally?
Playing with Kaká was a great experience. He’s won everything there is to win in the game and to be as humble as he is, is a real credit to him. Very down to earth and pleasant to speak with. As a player he was extremely talented, some of the things he could do with a ball were amazing, particularly in training. There he could have a little fun with the pressure off. Players like Kaká have a huge impact on the MLS in terms of being globally recognized, it’s important that the league continues to build, if it is to become one of the best in the world one day.
Kaká aside, who was the best player you played with during your time with Orlando City?
Kevin Molino. Kevin Molino was one of the most naturally talented players I've ever played with. Some of the things he could do with a ball were ridiculous and his awareness on the field is very impressive. Also, what a great human being. Something that is not typically associated with footballers theses days, but Kevin is a very genuine person.
During your time with Orlando City, you were involved in some truly memorable games. Which one sticks out most in your mind and why, when you reflect on your career with the club?
One of the most memorable games for me was the (2013 USL Pro Championship) final against Charlotte Eagles at the Citrus Bowl. What an amazing night, I think we had about 20,000 fans there that night and that’s when we knew something special was about to happen in Orlando.
You scored a peach of a goal in Toronto in 2015, your first in MLS. Just talk us through that goal, and what was going through your mind when you saw the ball nestle in the back of the net?
First of all, I was enjoying playing a little further up the field at left midfield for a few games. It was nice to not have to do too much defending for a change. I found myself on the edge of the box and I remember Cristian (Higuita) getting the ball. I was thinking to myself, 'if he gives me the ball here, I'm just going to shoot'. And I did. Thankfully it worked out for me, or Adrian would have had a pop at half-time!
Late in your career, you made the jump to the Major Arena Soccer League with the Orlando SeaWolves. How was that experience for you? It must have been quite an adjustment?
It was OK, I met some great people, and some not so much. But I guess that’s the same in any job. The game itself was really weird, I couldn’t get along with the on and off every 2 minutes. It drove me mad. You could never settle into a game.
You’ve now made the move into coaching with Rollins College men's soccer. How has your experience playing at such high levels as MLS and the EFL Championship prepared you for this role? And do you have aspirations to move back into the professional game in the future?
I love coaching at Rollins College, I work with some amazing people. I am slowly, but surely, starting to learn the ins and outs of the college game thanks to Keith Buckley, the head coach. He must have been sick of me in the beginning with all the questions, but he’s been great with me. I’ve learned a lot from Keith in regards to how he speaks to, and treats the players. I think my experiences will help me in my college coaching career and I hope to one day give a student athlete the chance to play at the next level too. In regards to the professional game, I don’t plan on it. I have my family of 4 here in Orlando and I love it here, I don’t want to get into the realm of moving all over again. Having said that, I was always taught, never say never. So we will see.
It was an absolute pleasure to have the chance to catch-up with you Luke. Best of luck in your future endeavours! Vamos Orlando!