KENYA BROWN - Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Brendan Hines-Ike is looking to make it to the top and that is why he has decided to start his professional soccer career in Sweden's Allsvenskan with Orebro SK.
Many soccer players coming out of the college ranks will look to start their professional careers in Major League Soccer, the North American Soccer League or any of the other leagues in the United States. However, the 21-year-old defender had his sights on Europe, which led to a trial with Orebro that would later land him a four-year contract.
There might have been a few things to get adjusted to when making the move to Sweden, but Hines-Ike told YA that he is starting to fit right in with the city and locals as he prepares for upcoming season.
"I came into the team on January 1 with a good base of fitness and was well rested in my mind as I had just come off a long college season. For my first training session it was actually minus 20 degrees Celsius so with that I had to quickly adjust to the cold weather factor," he said. "I have been here for a month and half now and have settled in quite nicely. The people of Sweden are incredibly welcoming and thankfully speak English as my Swedish is slowly coming along. I have my own two-bedroom apartment in a quiet area just 10 minutes outside of the city and the stadium. I have been using my off time to set that up and get to know the area."
The native of Denver, Colorado, is no novice when it comes to taking up opportunities to play in Europe. He was given his first opportunity to head across the pond to train with English Championship side Nottingham Forest for a few weeks. That experience not only enhanced his desire to one day play professional soccer in Europe, it also gave him a chance to get a firsthand look at how the system is run there compared with the United States.
That opportunity opened more doors for the University of South Florida alum to head to Europe and train with teams. However, it would be his time in Sweden that would eventually lead him make it his first stop in his professional aspirations.
"I had the opportunity to return to Europe after finding out that a handful of teams had extended invitations for me to train with them. So I decided to go back to Europe in between my junior and senior year of college with the help of the University of South Florida coaching staff and some close friends to train there for the summer. I saw especially in Sweden how much the coaches cared about the development of the young players and the importance of integrating them into the first team squad and I knew this is where I had to be," said Hines-Ike.
It was in March last year that Hines-Ike first learned that Orebro had interest in bringing him over to Sweden to train with the first team for a few weeks over the summer. Having already trained with other teams over that period, the former Chivas U-18 Academy player said he felt good coming in for his stint with Orebro and felt right at home as soon as he arrived at the training ground.
"I connected fantastically with the players and coaching staff while I was there as well and that made things that much better. From the moment I got there, I liked it and knew that if I had a pick at where I would start my career, that Orebro would be it. I returned back to Florida for my college season. The day after my final college game, the sporting director of Orebro SK contacted me and from there along with my agent, we negotiated a deal over the next few weeks which came out to be four years," said Hines-Ike.
Despite an invite to the MLS Combine and being selected by the Montreal Impact in the third round of the SuperDraft, Hines-Ike impressed the Orebro coaching staff that they offered him a contract that will see him play at the Behrn Arena until 2019.
One of the people that Hines-Ike has impressed the most in the preseason has been Orebro's head coach Alex Axen, who is working hard to help the team improve on their ninth place finish in the league last season.
And the feeling is mutual for the former American Athletic Conference First Team selectee who believes Axen's positive words have only boosted his confidence.
"First and foremost Alex is a wonderful person. He is very easy to get on with and he puts his trust into you in the big moments even as a young player," said Hines-Ike. "His positive words and belief in me have already helped my confidence to an all-time high. I think this is hard to find in coaches like him nowadays and I have been lucky to have one not only at USF but here at Orebro as well. The assistant coaches and staff of Orebro have all pushed me as well while injecting that confidence along the way."
Axen has so much confidence in Hines-Ike's ability that he has been involved with the first team from the start, playing in several preseason games and in the early rounds of the Svenska Cup where he scored a goal in Orebro's 3-1 win over GAIS on Feb. 27.
Hines-Ike also speaks highly of the Allsvenskan, a league that allows many young players to flourish and hopefully make the move to bigger leagues and teams in Europe. There is no doubt he feels that he has made the right choice signing with Orebro and wants to learn as much as he can as the season starts up in April.
"Many people don't know that Allsvenskan is one of the most unpredictable and exciting leagues in Europe. With the amount of young talent along with the never knowing idea of who will win the league, it makes it tough to know from year to year," he said. "Orebro started off the last season on a low note but in the second half of the season had the best form, in regards to results, in the whole of the league. For me it is important to just help the team in any way I can, to continue that form. My main goal for my first year is learn as much as possible while slowly trying to integrate myself into the regular lineup."
Hines-Ike is not the first American to launch his professional soccer career at Orebro. Alejandro Bedoya spent the early part of his career with the team and is now one of the stars for FC Nantes in France's Ligue 1 as well as one of the most reliable players for the U.S. national team.
Bedoya left Orebro as a highly respected player among his peers and Hines-Ike believes the reputation he has left at the team only inspires him to work hard in training and play well week in and week out so that he can eventually move up to the highest level in the sport.
"It is very obvious to say Alejandro has become a high profile player the United States national team and with his club team Nantes as well. He paved the way as the first American at Orebro SK and I take my hat off to him to for what not only he has done since then but what he did when he was at Orebro," he said. "I play with players today who played with him back in 2010 and 2011 and they speak very highly of him. I think we are like minded as I hope Orebro will jump start my career in football and take me to places and leagues I never thought I would get to experience. I have a tough task ahead of me to get to where he is, but with the right people around me, helping me to develop, I have no doubt I can make it to where he is too in few years' time."
Hines-Ike is a confident player and determined to make the most of his career. It may be too soon to talk about him putting on the shirt of the U.S. national team, but that is one of his ultimate goals as he gets his professional career underway.
With the national team bringing younger players in, he believes that he has a more realistic shot of getting a call up in the future if he can establish himself in Europe. With U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann encouraging players to get out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves in the European leagues, there is a good chance he could earn that call up.
"One of the biggest reasons I thought it would be best to start my career in Europe was that it would give me a chance to get more recognition not only on a global basis but for my country as well. It is no surprise that Jurgen Klinsmann has spoken about wanting players to experience the European system," said Hines-Ike.
"Seeing how the United States is constantly bringing younger players into their full national team just as Alejandro was first pulled in when at Orebro, I hope the same for myself. It will be extremely difficult with the timing of these next two years, but it just gives me that much more a challenge and edge to push myself harder and further."