Friday, July 22, 2011

Know Your Azkals: Nate Burkey is Homesick

A thousand miles away from Washington D.C., Nathaniel Burkey spends most of his time sitting in his hotel room, wondering what to do.

“I’m a little homesick," he confesses.

“Back at home, I have my car and my friends. Whenever I feel like it, I can just call them up and we can go around. It’s not like that here."

Home is precisely what he sacrificed to be part of the Azkals. Surprisingly, home is also what he found the moment he set foot on Philippine soil.

Tracing mom’s roots

Nate’s mom is a Manileña who moved to the United States after college. She met her husband John Burkey in Virginia where Nate and his older brother grew up.

He actually got interested in football because of his brother. Starting when he was only four-years-old, both of them have played in various youth teams.

Although Nate has not yet played in a professional club, he honed his skills in college, playing for Louisburg College in North Carolina and in Virginia Commonwealth University.

“I graduated with a degree in AB Sociology. After college, I worked in DC Public Charter School as a teaching assistant. I also coach their youth soccer team," he says.

However, Nate was meant for more than just coaching especially since he’s only 26-years-old now.

Back in 2007, his college coach told him about the possibility of playing for the Philippines because of his lineage.

“I researched about the PFF (Philippine Football Federation) and sent them emails expressing my intent to play with them. My mom was here in the Philippines three months ago and she talked to Mr. Palami. I flew in, tried out, and here I am today," he explains.

One-month-old Azkal

It’s only been a short while since Nate signed up for the Azkals. But he’s already played in two important matches with the team – the United Football League All-Star Game and the World Cup Qualifiers against Sri Lanka.

And he did not just play. He hit a header at the 49th mark in Sri Lanka, scoring the lone away goal for the Azkals.

“It’s such a different atmosphere here," he says referring to football in the Philippines.

He’s talking particularly about the fans that can be “overwhelming at times."

“We were signing autographs in Iloilo after training so I was still sweating and all that. Then there was this girl who wiped my face with her towel," he retells.

“I’m sure she meant well, but that’s just not me. I think I need to get used to how things go here," he adds.

“Greenbelt is nice"

This is only Nate’s fourth time to visit the Philippines and he says that this is the longest he’s stayed here.

Born and raised in the States, he can’t help but notice the stark difference between his two home countries – starting with the hot weather.

“I haven’t really gotten around much before I was sick during my first week. After that, it’s all training," he says.

“But Greenbelt is nice. It’s probably my most favorite place here in Manila," he laughs.

He’s also found new friends in the team as most of them stay in the same hotel. If they’re not hanging out at the mall, they prefer to just relax in their rooms.

His new teammates, and the fact that his girlfriend in the US is coming to visit Manila, keep him sane whenever he misses Washington too much. If all else fails, he’s got the internet to catch up with his loved ones back in the States. 


So far, it’s been a good and exciting experience for Nate in the national football team.

“Arrived in Sri Lanka! I don't know one thing about Sri Lanka LOL. Looking forward to this incredible experience!" he even tweeted.

Little did he know that he would score the only goal in his first legitimate match as an Azkal in a game no less than their first World Cup qualifier.

Despite the high hopes, the Azkals struggled against Sri Lanka in the first half of their away-match especially on offense.

But right at the 49th minute, Chieffy Caligdong made a free kick that almost went in. The Sri Lankan goalkeeper thought he had deflected the ball, not seeing Nate charging from his right side and eventually heading the ball inside the goal.

And just like that, Nate has become an overnight football hero. Thank God for that adrenaline-pumping header – and the internet – he’s not that homesick anymore. -- OMG, GMA News


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