ORLANDO — Ever since he was a kid, Bryan Burke has known he had a passion for soccer.
“I’ve been playing it all my life,” Burke said.
It’s only been more recently, though, that Burke has developed a passion for something else: the city of Orlando.
“I’ve only been there once,” he said. “I hear good things about it, that it’s an awesome place to live.”
Burke is about to find out quite a bit more about Orlando, since the resident of Newport Beach, Calif., is moving here permanently on Jan. 24. He’s about to start a new chapter in his career, since the City Beautiful’s own soccer team, the Orlando City Lions, just signed Defender Burke to the pro team roster. In joining the Lions, Burke will wear No. 7 for the team.
“I’m really excited about it,” Burke told Freeline Media. “I’m planning on getting there on January 24. I’ve only been to Orlando once, but it was an awesome experience.”
That experience put Burke, 24, on the opposite side of the Lions, when he was a part of the LA Blues last season, leading the team in minutes played — 1,867 altogether. Having played against the Lions here in Orlando, Burke said he instantly knew he wanted to join the team if an opportunity opened up — and it did.
“It was kind of a no-brainer to sign with them,” he said.
The move was welcomed by Orlando City Head Coach Adrian Heath, who expects Burke will be a great addition to the Lions.
“Bryan is by far the best player we played against all last year,” Heath said. “When we get the opportunity to take a player like that, then we have to sign him. He’s a great athlete and we’re delighted to pick him up.”
Burke got his start with Orange County (Calif.) Blue Star of the United Soccer League Premier Development League. Between 2007 and 2010, Burke appeared 29 times for Orange County, scoring four goals.
In 2011, he joined the Kitsap Punmas of the PDL, and led them to the 2011 PDL Championship.
Although he’s been playing soccer since he could walk, Burke said it was when he was a student at the University of San Francisco that he got more serious about the game.
“I started really focusing on soccer,” he said. He also thinks the sports is gaining fast in popularity. In some U.S. cities, he said, the sport has developed a passionate following.
“I’ve played up in Seattle, and it was crazy,” he said. “You’d have 50,000 screaming fans at the games.”
It’s an interesting trend, he said, because for a while soccer had to struggle a bit to capture the attention of sports fans in the United States.
“It’s not as big here as in Europe, because that’s the only game they’ve got,” Burke said. “Here in the states we also have baseball, football, basketball and other sports.”
But he also has noticed a definite trend of kids who are discovering — and loyally sticking with — soccer matches.
“Kids are starting at a younger age to get into soccer, and they see it’s a great sport,” Burke said. “It’s really taken off. It’s definitely getting bigger every year.”
He was also impressed that Orlando had its own soccer team.
“The only other team there is the Magic,” Burke said, of the Orlando Magic basketball team.
The Orlando City backline already includes 2011 USL PRO Defender of the Year Rob Valentino and winger Luke Boden.
“The way that we play, we see adding Burke as a strong point,” Heath said. “He’s very good at going down the right hand side, and will be a great asset for our attacking half.”
Burke said playing against the Lions last year convinced him that the team had enormous potential moving forward.
“I played in the USO last year, and we played against Orlando,” he said. “You could see how awesome the team was.”
Orlando City Soccer Club is a premier professional soccer sports franchise and a member of the USL PRO. The Lion’s pro team has won two regular season titles and one postseason championship during their time in Orlando. The team also has its own youth club, Orlando City Youth Soccer.
Chris Jones, who handles media relations for the team, said the club is looking to add four to five more players until the regular season starts.
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