He’ has gone from the Hillsborough scrapheap to living the American dream, but Luke Boden admits his decision to take a punt on a career in the United States was the best he has ever made.
Six years ago, having been released by boyhood club Sheffield Wednesday, he was offered a chance to start afresh when Orlando City approached him.
Boden admits that it was a leap of faith to pack his bags and head across the pond.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, he said: “I think it was definitely the best decision I ever made.
“When I got the offer, I said that I’d love to try it out.”
Boden was 22 and says he needed game time – something the Owls couldn’t guarantee him.
You go somewhere for a month and they expect you to hit the ground running, which is tough. Sometimes I do wish I’d given it more of a go in England, maybe just to prove to myself. But at the time I was 22 and just wanted to play games.Luke Boden
“I was 16 when I made my debut under Paul Sturrock,” he said.
“I then played a couple of games and went out on loan, but I didn’t really enjoy those spells.
“You go somewhere for a month and they expect you to hit the ground running, which is tough.
“Sometimes I do wish I’d given it more of a go in England, maybe just to prove to myself.
“But at the time I was 22 and just wanted to play games.
“The things that I’ve experienced here, I wouldn’t have got back home.”
Five successful years with Orlando saw Boden and the club start out in the USL Pro, the second tier, before reaching the MLS.
In that time he has played alongside World Cup winner Kaka, won a legion of fans for his solid displays and forged a new life for himself off the field.
He admits that he took time to adjust to the move – “It took me probably six months” – but he let his football do the talking.
Boden played his part as City finished top of the USL Pro three times and in 2014 he was even voted into the league’s team of the season.
Understandably, he had nothing but kind words for Brazilian playmaker Kaka, who he played alongside during the club’s first two MLS campaigns.
“It was a great experience playing with someone like Kaka,” continued Boden.
“I don’t think I would have ever got the opportunity to play with somebody like him in England.
“He has done everything you can possibly do in football.
“He’s won the World Cup, Champions League and been voted the World Player of the Year.
“To see how he trains every day and the way he acts was great.”
Despite being ‘cut’ from Orlando’s roster last year Boden tied up a move to Tampa Bay Rowdies for the start of the 2017 season.
Just as when he first moved to Orlando, the Rowdies find themselves playing in the USL Pro.
He believes a similar trajectory could well be on the cards for the club, who in theirfirst guise in the 1970s emplyed English football cult hero Rodney Marsh, and now boast former England man Joe Cole among their ranks.
“Everybody has been welcoming since I came,” said Boden.
“It was tough leaving Orlando because I was there six years.
“I wanted to stay close to my family and it was the best move for me, staying in Florida.
“I could have ended up moving to the other side of the country and having to go on six or seven-hour flights, so I was really fortunate to be able to stay pretty local.”
The Rowdies are currently halfway through their season, which runs from March to October.
Despite their division, the Eastern Conference, being just one rung below the MLS, the convoluted nature of American sports systems can make it feel like a glass ceiling at times.
Boden said: “It’s not a promotion or relegation issue in America – basically it boils down to money.
“Clubs have to put up a lot of money to get into the MLS.
“They also have to make sure that the stadium is right and that they can pull in a fanbase.
“There’s a lot of things that have to come together but I think Tampa definitely has the chance to do that.
“The first year I was in Orlando was the first year the club was in existence. You look at them now and the club is massive and established in the MLS.
“So it can be done and I hope it’s done here.”
Ironically our conversation takes place just after Boden’s current employers met his previous club.
Boden, reincarnated as a left-back following life as a midfielder during his Wednesday days, missed the 1-1 draw but is hopeful of being part of the Rowdies’ team for the return game in October.
He said: “Unfortunately I was suspended the game before, so the manager kept faith with the same team.
“But we play them at the end of the season so hopefully I’ll get my chance then.
“It was nice to see some old faces and I’m still good friends with quite a few players there.”
Speaking of old acquaintances, there aren’t too many people still at Hillsborough from when Boden was last there.
Of the playing squad, only Liam Palmer is still on the books at S6.
Next weekend his beloved Owls begin another league campaign as they aim to end their 17-year top flight exile.
Although he will be more than 4,000 miles away preparing for a clash with Harrisburg City Islanders, the Sheffielder will be keeping a close eye on the Owls and their fortunes over the coming months as they look to build on successive campaigns in which they have reached the Championship’s play-offs.
He added: “I really hope they do it this season.
“It’s a massive club and I think they’ve got a good chance again.
“I need them to stop me from biting my fingernails off when they get to the play-offs, so hopefully they can go up automatically!”