The most obvious about Luke Boden in his MASL debut with the Orlando SeaWolves wasn’t that he was an outdoor player trying to play professional indoor soccer. The most obvious thing was how much fun he was having.
The former Orlando City left back in the USL and MLS, and current assistant coach at Rollins College, took to the artificial turf of Silver Spurs Arena last night against the St. Louis Ambush and he looked like he was having the time of his life. Nearly every play would finish with a smile or a laugh, even losing the ball over the boards while trying to keep it in. There were flashes of the old competitor, of course — an early earful for the referee, for example — but this was a Bodz having a ball.
He certainly enjoyed scoring the first ever goal for the SeaWolves to tie the match early in the second quarter.
“It was nice, obviously from a personal point of view, but it was disappointing to lose,” Boden said of the eventual 5-4 shootout loss in the team’s inaugural MASL game.
It wasn’t the first time he’s played indoors, but it was his first in such a competitive environment.
“I just played indoor for fun. We played indoor back home in England — indoor because it’s freezing all the time and raining,” he explained with a laugh.
After the match, Boden was chatting with fans and other players with a huge grin on his bearded face, waving up at folks in the stands wishing him well, and just generally happy.
“I’m excited. I enjoy it,” Boden said of the indoor game after last night’s match. “I think that’s why I played football — well, soccer — in the first place. I just want to enjoy my soccer. And it got to a point in outdoor where I just didn’t enjoy it anymore. For me, if you don’t enjoy it, there’s no point. I’m just enjoying my soccer again and it’s fun.”
The grin on Boden’s face grew slightly even as he corrected himself on the sport’s name to accommodate his surroundings here in the United States. The Sheffield, England native who just turned 30 within the last week was in great spirits, despite a tough loss in which his side came from behind three times to force overtime and, ultimately, an unsuccessful penalty shootout. Boden is one of four former Lions on the SeaWolves, as he’s joined by Lewis Neal, Tyler Turner, and Jonathan Mendoza — all guys he played alongside with OCSC.
His first game was a smashing success, too. Orlando City fans know Boden as a defender who occasionally played in the midfield, but SeaWolves Head Coach Tom Traxler has Boden playing up front. A striker in his youth, Boden used his size and expert first touch well, scoring one goal, assisting on two others, and forcing a couple excellent saves from Ambush goalkeeper Casey Clark. One of his assists was on Neal’s first MASL goal.
“We were just talking about it just now in the training room,” Boden laughed after emerging from the locker room last night. “It’s great to be playing with friends who I’ve played with previously. On top of that, the guys are great and it’s great to meet new friends and play with new friends. It’s a great atmosphere. Wins will start to come because if you get the dressing room right, that’s 90 percent of the battle.”
Playing with familiar faces helped Boden assimilate with the SeaWolves, as he says the transition from the outdoor game to the indoor one wasn’t easy.
“It was really daunting to start with because we’ve never played this before,” he said. “There’s so many rules and regulations and things that you have to do and plays and power plays and man down and other stuff that we have to learn. So the fact that I’ve got other players around me like Lewy, Tyler, Johnny; we’re all learning together. That’s been a good point because you’re nudging each other. And the guys have been so patient with us. As we start to learn, it’s only going to get better.”
“I’ve said it all along, even though they’re outdoor players, they’ve converted to the indoor game,” Traxler said of his ‘outdoor’ players after their MASL debut. “You look at Johnny, Bodz, Lewis, they’re technically fantastic players. So their first touch is good. They have to learn transition, which they’re learning. They have to learn to work with the boards, which they’re learning. So there’s nuances that they need to continue to be better at but they’ve taken to the indoor game fantastically well. I’m very pleased with them.”
Though the result was tough, Boden took heart that his brand new team, which has played just one true game after a single exhibition earlier this month, has the right spirit.
“The start of the first quarter we started out on fire. They couldn’t even touch the ball,” he said. “And then we went a couple goals behind and things started to go against us. We got a couple injuries, a couple knocks. But we came back from it and as I said, that comes from the dressing room. That’s the sort of spirit that’s in there. And fair play to the ownership and to the manager for bringing them players in. A strong dressing room shows on the field and that’s what we’ve got.”
Times are good right now for Boden, who is as busy as he’s ever been.
“Obviously I’ve got a million and one things going on right now with Rollins and things like that, which is also extremely exciting for me,” said Boden. “It’s something I always wanted to do — get into coaching. Keith (Buckley, Rollins head coach/assistant athletic director), thank goodness, got me in there.”
Boden knows that he’s got a lot to learn about the indoor game, and reiterated several of the points made by Traxler in his quote above. Right now, Bodz is a sponge and he’s eager to pick up all the pointers he can from his more experienced teammates and coaches. If a goal and two assists in his first game is any indication, he’s already picked up quite a bit and Orlando’s competition in the MASL will need to look out for this upstart from the outdoor game. But for now, Boden isn’t looking at the difficulty of the challenge so much as the joy that this new brand of football/soccer has brought him.
“I’m enjoying this adventure with my teammates,” he said. “Tonight I really enjoyed my first game. That was really important.”