Press Conference

Transcript and video: Brendan Burke press conference

Note: Questions have been paraphrased

Opening statement from Richie Graham

It’s obviously been a pretty exciting week for us at the Philadelphia Union with the announcement of Earnie Stewart as our sporting director and with the unveiling of our USL team in the Lehigh Valley. Today, we add to that excitement announcing Brendan Burke as the new head coach of our USL team, Bethlehem Steel FC.

As you know, Brendan is a familiar face here at Philadelphia Union. He’s coached at every level of the club from our 6 and 7 year olds at PDP up at YSC, through our Union Juniors and elite players in the Union Academy, a very successful six years with our PDL affiliate at Reading United and, of course, over a hundred games working under John Hackworth and Jim Curtin as an assistant for our MLS squad.

Brendan has been chosen to lead our USL initiative for a couple of reasons. One, as a family member, he intimately understands every element of our club and our player development pathway. He understands how high of a priority it is to have really strong integration between our academy, our USL and our first team.

During his time at Reading he showed that he has a lot of skill for identifying and developing talent. During his six years at Reading United he identified and coached over 50 players that are currently playing professional soccer, including some of our own: CJ Sapong, Ray Gaddis, Andrew Wenger, and Leo Fernandes. His record at Reading United was an impressive 65-11-18, so he understands winning and how important winning is in the development process of players.

Lastly, Brendan was chosen because of his work ethic, and his competitive intensity and desire to succeed. And I can say it’s a real pleasure for me. I’ve known Brendan for a long time and I’ve watched him grow and develop as a coach, and I have no doubt he’s going to add tremendous value to our club, to the city of Bethlehem, and to the incredible fans of Bethlehem Steel FC.

So, welcome, Brendan Burke.

Opening statement from Brendan Burke 

Thank you, Richie.

I want to start by thanking everyone that’s a part of the ownership group and a part of the organization. I enjoyed my time here the last time I was here and when Jim called me about this opportunity there was zero hesitation on my part. I’m looking forward to working with all the good people around the city of Philadelphia and, honestly, the tradition, the history behind Bethlehem Steel has me very excited. We were talking about the video they put up at the press conference the other day and I wanted the season to start 10 minutes after we walked out of that room.

This is a development component of the club, the USL team. But it’s also a support structure for the first team, and it’s going to be a difficult blend of first team players, of academy players coming through to cut their teeth, and some veteran USL professional players are going to be an important part of that mix. So, I’m looking forward to managing all of that player movement, and I think the relationships that we have, the foundation that we have, having worked together at every level of the club, myself and Jim, that will lend to success for this team down the road.

I’d also like to touch on and thank my family for the opportunity. I had moved home to Boston where we grew up, and they’ve supported the move, and have committed to making their way down here a couple of times a year to see us and allow us to pursue the next step in my career.

There’s going to be a lot of players over the next few months that I’ve coached in the past that are going to be, hopefully, reaching out and coming home, as well, and I think the relationship with our first team players was an important part of the process for me in deciding whether or not this was going to be the perfect opportunity — and that’s what I think this is.

So, I’d like to thank Mr. Sugarman, Richie, everyone in the front office, and Jim for this opportunity.

Why did you leave the Union in 2014? Did you remain in contact with the coaching staff after you left?

To answer your first question, I left because of an illness in my family. That was a difficult one for us — it still is to talk about. We’ve come through it, as a family, and I’m happy to say that everyone’s doing well. But, I never lost touch  and, like I said, when Jim reached out, I said, “Yup, I’m in. tell me where to be and when to be there.”

You worked a lot of hours between being head coach at Reading and your assistant coach duties with the Union. How will that experience help you now?

We talked about that right off the bat and I think there’s going to be an allowance for me to focus on this team this time, and that will help me. But the experience of long hours, and juggling multiple teams across the club –like Richie mentioned I was in the academy, coaching the PDL team, and working with the first team at one point — that’s invaluable experience. I know a lot of the kids in the club still coming through so, player identification, I will lean on Tommy and his staff for that. But, it helps to have an intimate knowledge myself. My hours will be spread across all three levels of the club again. I think that’s important, I think it’s vital that the club is well integrated, and I think I can be a leader for the club in that department.

How much more integrated will the club be now compared to the previous partnership with Harrisburg City Islanders? How important is that?

We’re physically integrated. The USL team will train here at PPL Park and I think that interaction between the two coaching staffs, and the ability to communicate on a daily, real-time basis, is going to lead to a much more cohesive staff from top to bottom. I’ll be spending a good deal of time at the academy, as well, and certainly the progression of 15, 16, 17, 18 year olds kids is not lost on me. Most of my background was spent on that 18 to 23 kind of age range so that’s going to be a focus for us again.

While Reading is affiliated with the Union, there was never a mechanism for the Union to claim Reading players. How important is the difference now knowing the guys you’ll be training have a direct connection to the first team?

[Burke to Jim Curtin] Let you take that one?

[Curtin to Burke] It’s your day.

[Burke laughs and then answers] I would say the ability comes through the ability to track and monitor the progress of your homegrown players but also keep them eligible within the league rules. When they go off to college it’s important that they’re coming back to us every summer and spending time in our PDL program and training with our first team, and now the USL team can absorb a lot of those training hours but still give them environment to push them through.

[Jim Curtin interjects] I just would add Reading specifically, it was an additional tool because, instead of just looking at a guy in a combine setting and maybe sending out scouts a couple of times a year, you had them in your training sessions with the ability to pull them into first team training and see them up close. So, yeah, you didn’t necessarily own their rights but you got a better snapshot of what they’re all about on the field and off. So, it was a really good tool in that you’re kind of seeing if they check all of the boxes, you know, because a lot of times you can go to a game out in California and watch a kid play once and he can pop out and seem like he’s great, and you go with it, and there’s off the field things that maybe you couldn’t catch. So, it was a great tool in that regard, it does a lot of the eliminating guys for you during the process. It’s still very useful but now to have a USL pro team in Bethlehem Steel will be a whole nother level.

[Burke adds] And I would point to Ray Gaddis, to piggyback on what Jim just said, he’s a good example of a guy: We got to know the character, we got to know what his abilities were, and what his deficiencies might be, and we were able to take a chance on him in the draft a couple of years ago and that’s paid dividends.

Was it frustrating when Reading players, Damion Lowe, for example, were taken by other MLS teams?

Yeah, that’s natural frustration but, you know, it’s part of it. You have to decide how much you’re willing to extend yourself to get to get to a guy, too. And that was the conversation we had that day.

What’s the process now as you begin to build a roster? What kind of players are you targeting?

I think it’s important to have a veteran core so there will be some guys in the 25 to 28 year old age range on this team. They need to be leaders by example, they need to be guys who’ve won this league, they need to be — Richie touched on it — winning is part of development and, in order to do that, you need a proven commodity. There are going to be players coming down from the first team so we know we’re going to get excellent help, support, and be able to help and support those players with the minutes they need. So, there’s your core, you’re veteran core, between USL players that I’ll go after and first team players coming down, and that’s going to afford our kids the opportunity to learn.

Is the structure set up now for things to be the way they need to be? 

[Richie Graham answers] I feel we do. I feel that this is a really, really exciting time for the Philadelphia Union and for soccer in the US, you know, this idea of being able to have true development environment at the academy level, an environment at USL where you can test players and really see who can swim, who’s going to sink, with competitive, professional games, and then, of course, your first team environment. I think that’s the right structure. We look at other parts of the world that have similar structures with their U-23s — maybe, in Germany they would be similar — and I think it’s really exciting. So, we feel like we’ve got a lot of the pieces in place and now it comes down to execution and bringing Earnie in, and bringing Brendan in, is a part of that strategy to say, “Hey, let’s really take this to the next level.”

[To Jim Curtin] How important was it to have Burke in place now, for him to have some extra time to build the team?

First and foremost, we wish it was even earlier, you know, because he’s a guy who wants to get to work right away. We did a really good job with the process — Brendan was my guy all along — but, at the same time, you have to go through the process and you have to interview good candidates, and we interviewed a lot. Brendan rose to the top, he’s here now, I’m excited by that. The biggest word I’ll use is trust: We trust each other. We’ve worked together for a while now and that is a big thing. I talked with Jay after the Open Cup final and, listen, he’s a guy who didn’t sleep that night — I didn’t sleep that night, not for a second — he’s a competitive guy. And now Jay, Richie, Dave Rowan, they’re guys of action. This is a move that shows action. I think this week shows a lot of action in the organization; we’re not satisfied with where we’ve been but now we are moving in the right direction and now Brendan is a big piece of moving forward. He is proven to develop players, develop pros for our league. You can look around the league — you guys have the list — it’s up in the high 40s of players that are thriving in MLS and thriving in USL, and thriving overseas. So, it was a natural fit. We have a good relationship that goes beyond soccer, as well, and there’s a trust element there that is the key.

And it’s his day, I don’t want to talk to much about the first team but, at the same time, I couldn’t be happier to have Brendan on board. This is a huge piece for us, can’t stress that enough.

[To Brendan Burke] Do you anticipate more homegrown signings?

Definitely. I think you’ll see some of our guys in the coming weeks, months possibly signing with Bethlehem right out of the academy.

Are there players ready to make the leap from the U-18s to Bethlehem or will players be going to local universities before coming back into the system?

The nice part is that they can do both, you know, we can introduce them to the USL level before they go to college now — and I think Red Bull did a great job of that. And then you decide if college is the right next step after they’ve been in our training environment, our match environment, for a couple of months. That’s a case by case thing but everything you just touched on, there’s an example of each of those cases in the academy now.

[To Richie Graham] Are the kids in the academy excited by the USL team?

Yeah, I mean, these kids are really passionate about soccer, they love it, and they want to be professionals. Of course, not all of them will end up going the professional route but they’re all sort of in that process right now of sort of going after their dreams and pursuing their dreams, and it’s a really special thing to watch young people sort of go through that and commit themselves. All the learning that goes through trying to become the best at something — the failures and the successes — we feel are important for their development, not only as players but as people. So, it’s exciting to watch and those kids are definitely excited. The new logo was, I can say, a hit, they love the snake. So, they’re really excited about the whole process, as well.

[To Brendan Burke] You talked earlier about players “coming home.” Does that mean players could be on the team pretty quickly?

Yeah, that’s a possibility, but I was also referring to guys around the league that are out of contract or looking for a move in another way, guys that we’ve worked with beit at the PDL level or at the first team level or even, like you mentioned, down in the academy. I was referring to relationships with players.

[To Richie Graham] Can we expect you to continue with your recent public presence?

You won’t see much of me once Earnie arrives, I’ll say that [laughs]. But, look, we recognized that we feel like we’re launching into a new era so, frankly, everyone involved with the Union at every level has a lot of work to do and so I’ve tried to help in any way I possibly can. But, once Earnie arrives, I will drift back away from these public settings; certainly, I’m looking forward to that [laughs].


  1. I have nothing bad to say about any of this. Yet another domino falling in the right direction.

  2. All good things here – and not a single ounce of condescending arrogance on the dais…woohoo the dark days are over!

  3. Brendan May says:

    Brendan and his wife lived around the corner from us before they moved. Awesome people and he’s a great coach with a track record for developing talent. So glad they’re coming back to Philly.

  4. there is something pretty remarkable about burke that is hard to describe. he has a certain kind of quiet confidence that you don’t see very often. he doesn’t seem at all scared or unsure; he seems aware of how much he knows

    • He has the qualities one would expect to see in an officer on commissioning day.
      The cool of a fighter pilot or future admiral. My guess is…he could just as easily have been either or.

  5. “There’s going to be a lot of players over the next few months that I’ve coached in the past that are going to be, hopefully, reaching out and coming home, as well, ….”
    This is an interesting quote

  6. thanx for this collection

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