Featured / MLS

Q & A with Brendan Burke

When Brendan Burke took over as coach of Reading United in 2008, he transformed a team that had not won anything since 1997 to the 2008 Mid Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference Regular Season Premier Development League Title. Since then, Burke has led Reading to its first US Open Cup qualification since 2003, the 2010 Eastern Conference Championship and has been PDL coach of the year finalist. Along the way, Burke has helped turn Reading into a premier developer of young talent with four former players being selected in the 2011 SuperDraft.

The Union recognized Burke’s considerable talents when they named him to be the coach of the Union Reserve team, set to play the first of ten games in the new Reserve League schedule on April 10 against the New York Red Bulls reserves.

Last week, Burke took some time off from his very busy schedule to answer some questions from the PSP.

Philly Soccer Page: When did the Union first approach you about becoming the coach of the Union Reserve team? Was it a surprise or did you know you were being considered for the position?

Brendan Burke: I was approached about the Reserve’s Coaching position over the winter. The conversations started in December.

I knew that I had a good line of communication with the technical staff through the partnership between Reading United and the Union and that there might be an opportunity, I did not know specifically in what capacity I would be able to assist with the club though.

PSP: Many Union fans probably don’t understand what the Reserve League is supposed to achieve. Can you describe the purpose of the Reserve League and what the Union wishes to achieve from it?

BB: The Reserve League will be a valuable tool for us and for all of the clubs around MLS that take advantage of the opportunity to give younger players in the squad live match experience against outside competition, that is a very difficult thing to simulate in a training environment, even in an excellent training environment like ours where maximum effort goes into each session.

Essentially, I would hope that the reserve league will serve to better prepare those players that are not seeing regular games with the first team. The reasons that they are not seeing regular games on that stage is not the concern, it could be due to injury, lack of experience, or any number of other reasons.

The idea is to use those games to improve fitness, tactical awareness, speed of play etc., so that when a player is presented with an opportunity to step in with the first team they are fully prepared to do so. I believe that everyone around the league will give their reserves the attention they deserve and in so doing the quality of the league will improve year after year as the sharpness of the average player improves. It is a long MLS season and many of these guys will inevitably get their shot.

PSP: I assume you were already in somewhat regular contact with the Union coaching staff because of the existing relationship between Reading and the Union. Can you describe what that relationship was like previous to your appointment?

BB: My relationship with the staff before my appointment was one in which I was certainly always seeking advice on a number of fronts and that advice was always provided for me so it was an environment that I felt comfortable stepping into when the opportunity came along. I also tried to pass along information and recommendations on players that I was regularly exposed to and continue to work with in the PDL, both players with us in Reading and those competing against us for a good portion of the year, players that we are fortunate enough to know a good deal about when the draft comes around.

PSP: How will the relationship be different given your new appointment? I imagine you will be spending a lot more time in Chester?

BB: The relationship is still very much the same in most regards, I am relied on more now though to get things done behind the scenes, which is something that I am grateful for and something that I take great pride in.

I am working with technical staff vastly more experienced than I am and I am learning at what I would describe as an exponential rate by being around them in Chester every day now. Working to assist in putting our academy together with the help of many of the top youth coaching directors and organizations in the Philadelphia region is presenting an excellent opportunity and unique challenges as well. In general though I don’t think the relationship is much different it is simply evolving to include more responsibility club-wide from work at YSC with the youngest of our Union Juniors program to our U18’s, to the PDL, and the First Team in Chester. I am fortunate to be working on all of those fronts, and in turn, evolving with the club.

PSP: How will the selection process for deciding who plays on the Reserves work? Will you have the authority to select players from Harrisburg and Reading to fill out the Union Reserves’ roster?

BB: The selection process for the reserves will include first team players needing games and possibly trialists with the club.  We do know that it will also be important to include promising young talent from our academy in these games as well in an effort to accelerate their growth. Unfortunately we will not be able to include most of the players on our Reading roster due to NCAA restrictions on competition alongside professional players. I am sure that we will see players from Harrisburg at some point though, and given the success of Sheanon Williams last year in his transition from Harrisburg to PPL and the excellent relationships between Reading, Harrisburg, and the Union, it should prove just one more solid and unique building block in the development/scouting model established by Mr. Sakiewicz and the rest of our front office from the beginning.

PSP: There are only ten games scheduled for the Union Reserves with large gaps in the schedule when no or few games are to be played. What kind of work will you be doing with the Reserves during those off times?

BB: As far as work with the reserves during “off times” in our schedule: There are some big gaps in the Reserve League schedule yes, but it is important to remember that these are primarily first team players who are in training every day with the First Team, it is not like they are taking extended breaks. Games like Reading and Harrisburg exhibitions will take place and I think the reserves will see some time in those games as well. Should the opportunity for additional games for this group present itself and the timing and competition are right then there is the potential for additional training games and things of that nature. Everything has to fit in with the direction and needs of the First Team at the end of the day. If they think it is necessary for us to play a few additional games then that is what we will do.

PSP: How will you balance your coaching responsibilities with Reading with those of the Union Reserves? Many of the Union matches, for example, are right on the heels of Reading matches. Will it be tough to change gears?

BB: Balancing all of my coaching responsibilities will be difficult at times yes. Anything worth having though is going to cost you some long hard hours and with the excellent support network I have around the club, at YSC, at Reading and at home I am confident that we will do an excellent job on every front. It is never going to be about one person’s schedule, as long as we communicate well and have clear and common objectives as a group of players, coaches, and trainers across the Union, Reading United, and Academy staff I think people around the country will look to our model in the future!

Image courtesy of Reading United.

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