USL - Philadelphia Union II

The Steel should lock in Burke

“Spahn, Sain, … and praying for rain.”

A Boston sports editor penned the line to describe the September pennant drive of the 1948 Boston Braves, when two aces and schedule-altering weather meant the aces won 8 games out of 14 towards the beginning of the month.

While praying for weather is probably as ancient as the emergence of proto-homonids in East Africa, its reliability in producing future results continues to be uncertain. That was the Boston writer’s point, and it is ours.

The Steel’s head coach

What is Brendan Burke’s future with the Keystone Sports Entertainment organization?

Not only do Bethlehem Steel develop players, they also develop coaches, and Burke is the most publically prominent among them. He is still learning his craft. Mastering the skills and approaches necessary to make the specific Bethlehem player development project succeed has not always been easy for him.

But he is a bright, capable man. He is learning well, nuancing and deepening his conceptual base both on the pitch and off. For example, he now knows how to build appropriate roster flexibility to accommodate the fluctuations of a full-length professional season. He is acquiring the range of ancillary skills that a professional development side head coach needs – handling agents, parents, and media, delivering cogent sound-bytes, and being the public face of the team.

His future

Will he be more valuable as the organization’s increasingly experienced player development specialist who remains in the minors? Will another organization seek his skill for themselves? Or is his future with an MLS first team, possibly Philadelphia’s?

Other neighboring organizations worth their salt will notice his growth and value him. Finding a comparable replacement – especially given the organization’s operational principle to take its time and find the right person – would not be fast and it would not necessarily be easy.

Burke once indicated that returning to the Union after leaving it had had a good deal to do with his friendship with Jim Curtin.  They had been young assistants together in Philadelphia’s lower coaching ranks, with Burke heading up both Reading United and the Union reserves as well as serving as a first-team assistant, while Curtin was a first team assistant with some type of academy responsibility.

Yo! Earnie?

The Keystone organization needs to think forwardly. Burke holds his ambitions closely. He did comment once, a year ago, that the opportunity to coach professionals was one to be taken.

Burke is strongly loyal to the group that gave him his start and also to his colleagues in its team. He values his opportunities to learn from the sporting director. And he is clearly stimulated by the prospects he believes lie before all of them.

But probably he is not loyal enough to deny his own life-changing self-interest. Not only should Keystone lock in their young players, as they have Fontana, Trusty and Jones. They should consider their young coaches as well.


  1. I don’t care how good a coach he is or could be, the union cannot hire him when Curtin is eventually replaced simply because it will look exactly the same as the two times it’s happened before.

  2. When is Burke’s contract up? And this is absolutely a no brainer.
    To Brian, I don’t care how it would look, as of right now I’d take Burke over Curtin in a heartbeat. He’s shown the ability to do what Curtin is unable to, develop players, massage a roster, play different formations, and adjust his tactics to suit the moment. Unless the Union go after an international coach with credentials, which I feel is extremely unlikely, I’d rather have Burke than a plethora of MLS retreads. The ideal scenario for me, would be the Union firing Curtin, hiring an international level coach, resigning Burke to continue his progression. Then eventually Burke takes over the reigns.

    • I agree with your ideal scenario. I also imagine it will be easier to sell Burke on being BSFC coach for a few more years if you get him a legit international coach for him to learn from as well.

      Burke is probably smart enough to realize he doens’t want to walk into the same buzzsaw Hackworth and Curtin did either and is more willing to continue to develop.

      • Unless we spend more money whoever we hire is walking into the same buzzsaw that Hackworth and Curtin did.

    • The end of your post is absolutely correct. Give Burke a few more years to work on his position with BSFC while we have Harry Redknapp (personal favorite…no, not happening, and I fully expect blowback on that), and then when [unnamed international coach] decides to leave, we move Burke into his spot. But that has to be clearly laid out in advance. It can’t look like they panicked and just grabbed the closest warm body. Because with Hackworth and Curtin, that is what it has felt like.
      Perception is reality.

      • Well then my question is, Who would/did you have more faith in, Curtin, Hack, or Burke?
        For me, the answer is easily Burke. I get the appearance of the Union’s hires is not good, but that would not prevent me from doing anything I could to keep Burke. I think losing Burke would be more detrimental to the club than the hiring and firing of Hack and Curtin. The only mistake it wouldn’t surpass would be Nowak.

  3. Matt McClain says:

    Definitely agree. Keep Burke

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