'It was a no-brainer' - McFadden relishing Orlando City move

The former Norwich City youth player chose a move to Major League Soccer instead of the lower levels of English football and he is pleased with his decision

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At first, the idea of being at the same club as Kaka seemed absurd to Kyle Callan-McFadden, but now it's no big deal.

The 20-year-old defender from Donegal opted to take the road less travelled when he joined Orlando City in October 2015, a decision that has subsequently led to him rubbing shoulders with an icon of modern football.

As he prepares for the 2016 Major League Soccer (MLS) season, McFadden is relishing working with the former Real Madrid star, but admits that initial interactions were daunting.

"The first day I was a bit star-struck, thinking ‘oh he’s a Ballon d’Or winner’ and I’m a wee lad from Ramelton who’s over training with him," McFadden told Goal.

"But after the first week or two you just come in, shake hands, sit down and have lunch. The first couple of days it was a bit weird, but now it’s grand, we chat away."

In joining Orlando, it is fair to say that he has entered unfamiliar terrain. As is the case with many young footballers in Britain, McFadden was faced with a dilemma when his contract came to an end at Norwich City at the end of the 2014-15 season.

Things had looked promising for the ex Republic of Ireland Under-19 captain. He had enjoyed a successful start to his career at Carrow Road, which included beating Chelsea in the 2012-13 FA Youth Cup final, captaining the Canaries' U-21 team and featuring for the first-team in the League Cup.

However, despite those achievements, he was not deemed to be part of the Norfolk club's future plans and so, was forced to consider his options.

In such a scenario, for young Irish players based in England, the prosaic route often leads them down the tiers of the Football League and into relative obscurity. Indeed, McFadden had offers on the table from a number of League One and League Two clubs. But it was an offer from MLS expansion club Orlando City that eventually won his favour.

"I thought I’d be stupid not to sign," says McFadden of his decision to cross the Atlantic. "Because MLS is getting massive now and especially if you’ve got Kaka in your team, that’s someone you want to play with. It was a no-brainer really."

In addition to the allure of playing alongside the talismanic Brazil international, the prospect of testing himself against players such New York City's Andrea Pirlo, new Los Angeles Galaxy recruit Steven Gerrard and, of course, Robbie Keane helped to make up the young defender's mind.

"I thought, ‘I’m only a 20-year-old lad, I might not break into the team straight away, but I’ve got a good chance’" explains McFadden. "If I break into the team I’ll be playing against the likes of Robbie Keane and now you’ve got Gerrard and Pirlo, so it’s motivation to get over and prove yourself against those types of players.

"Unlike in League One or League Two, when you come over here you’ve got lots of viewers watching the games because of the players in the teams.

"It’s an opportunity for me now to go and impress a lot of people. As I said, a no-brainer."


STAR ATTRACTION | McFADDEN JOINS KAKA AT ORLANDO CITY

There is a tendency in Europe to view the level of football in MLS with a degree of doubt and it was a concern for McFadden. However, those fears were quickly allayed.

"The standard surprised me. It is like lower Premier League-Championship standard," he says. "That was the biggest thing I was worried about, as in what I was coming in to, but it’s a very good standard and I’m loving every minute of it.

"The players over here are very physical. They’re big and fit and strong. When you bring in the European players, you can tell that they’re still getting used to it in the first few games, but it doesn’t take long to get used to it. After a few weeks I was flying and in the swing of things."

After spending Christmas back home, McFadden returned to Orlando 10 days early and is determined to work his way into the plans of manager Adrian Heath ahead of the new season, which is scheduled to get under way on March 6 against Real Salt Lake. A return to the international fold is also on the mind of the centre back.

Ireland boss Martin O'Neill has consistently included MLS-based players Kevin Doyle and Robbie Keane in his squads, so plying one's trade in America is evidently not viewed as an impediment to progression on the international stage.

And McFadden is confident that, if he is playing first-team football and playing well, international recognition will follow, perhaps with Noel King's U-21 squad.

"All I’m focusing on now is doing well for the club and hopefully getting back into the set-up, but time will tell I guess," says the former Norwich youth, who was named the FAI U-16 Player of the Year in 2011.

"Everyone knows where I am now. I’m just going to focus on playing well for my club and if the call-up comes, it’d be great to go and play for my country again.

He added: "My aims for the season are just to get into the team, play well and get back into the Ireland set-up. Make a name for myself.

"It’s been a long couple of months, but I’m here now and looking forward to cracking on."