HINES-IKE SHOWS METTLE IN BELGIUM
Brendan Hines-Ike is steadily showing just how resilient a center-back he can be as he plays in Belgium, and hopefully it leads to him playing on the international stage.
Although only 24-year-old and in the early stages of what can become a very interesting and successful career, Colorado native Brendan Hines-Ike feels that he still has a way to go as he heads up the soccer ladder. Today he finds himself helping KV Kortrijk keep balls out of the back of their net as a central defender in the very competitive Belgian Pro League.
"I'm a guy who's constantly learning in this league," said the Creighton University alumni. "I've been here (in Belgium) one year so I've basically played against every team at least once. Every game brings a new challenge."
Having started his senior career down by the boardwalk on the Jersey Shore with the Ocean City Nor-easters, he headed to the Sunshine State for a season with the South Florida Bulls before realizing the dream - European soccer.
Hines-Ike found himself in Scandinavia, where he proved himself to be one of the top defenders in the Swedish Allsvenskan with Orebro SK. Having impressed there, it was only right that he would move on to a bigger, more competitive league.
Belgium provided that league. Now at the beginning of his second season with the Kerels, who narrowly missed taking part in Europa League qualifiers, he's ready for action in this brand new season.
"I don't look too much to myself right now (but the team overall); it's still so early in the season, work on my fitness levels. I'm still trying to find my feet and to learn every game," he said after the recent Charleroi game where Kortrijk came back to earn a hard fought point.
The game reminded the defender that he was in for another season of physical challenges and a bit of pain.
"I just had eight stitches in my eye last game (against the Belgian champions, Genk) and the keeper came out and hit me tonight; hit me directly in the stitches."
The tough American shook it off though as he did the week before when he suffered the incident.
"It was against Genk. I had a big collision with their forward (Mbwana) Samatta and ripped my eye near the eye brow. I got stitched up and went right back in. American spirit!"
Putting things into perspective, Hines-Ike knows that it will be a long tough season where he feels that the team will have to battle for every point.
"It's difficult to say now (how we'll finish). In these early games you just look for points because last year we struggled to get points in the beginning of the season. We wished we could have gotten more because at the end of the day everyone can get points off of everyone else in, I'd say, the first six or seven games because you're finding systems. Right now, it's to pick up as many points as we can in the first part of the season."
With some players moving on, the team isn't where they need to be at this stage of the season.
"We're nowhere near the squad we need. We still need a few key players; we still need a forward. We still need a back-up goalkeeper. We still need another midfielder and winger. So the club is still working to bring in more players. I think with that our squad will strengthen, but for now we have to work with what we have. I think if we can find points now every game, whether it's one point or all three points, we'll be in good shape. We don't want to drop many points; not right now."
Having joined the US Men's U-18 National Team on five occasions, Kortrijk's No. 3 has yet to receive a phone call to join the senior team. If the call doesn't come soon, the USA could lose this promising defender because the Irish FA has been tracking him since his time in Sweden. He has been working on securing an Irish passport and is now waiting to hear if he has been successful, having Irish roots.
"It's finally in," he said with a grin. "There was a long delay, waiting for papers; but it's finally in. It's finally been totally submitted so now I'm waiting for the final answer. Actually I thought that I was waiting for a long time but I didn't have all the right paperwork (before) so now I'm just waiting for a decision. Hopefully I'll hear in the next few weeks."
Although the process has been a long one, Ireland and head coach Mick McCarthy haven't forgotten about the American.
"My agent is still in constant contact with them. But this isn't in my head; I only think about now. I have so much to focus on with the league so if it comes (the call), it comes. It's not a thing I'm constantly thinking about."
Perhaps it's time for the US Soccer Federation leadership to make a move and not lose another promising defender as they did when I guy named Nevin Subotic was snubbed by the team. He ended up changing his allegiance to Serbia after playing for the US U-17 and U-20 teams.
Hines-Ike hasn't made up his mind and hasn't closed the door on representing the United States.
"If they call me, I'm always ready," he smiled. "But like I said, I've got enough going on right here to focus on but if something comes that would be great. I'm ready."