Raves: Brendan Burke, the straight talker

Editor’s note: This is part of a PSP series titled, “Raves,” in which PSP writers take a break from critical analysis and straight reporting to rave about a particular person from the Philadelphia soccer scene. For more about the series, read the introduction here. To read all posts in the Raves series, click here.

I covered high school sports out of college, and the one thing that I hated most (other than a 1-0 field hockey game in 35-degree weather) was coach speak.

“Coach speak” is what coaches do when they don’t want to talk about specific tactics or revert back to certain plays. Instead, they make bland, generic, and wildly uninteresting comments instead. How many times have we heard crap like this?

“We weren’t good enough defensively tonight. We need to be better.”

“So and so was great in this one. So and so did everything right.”

“I love these guys. They work so hard and this is what happens.”

What does it actually mean?

Can’t you tell us what went wrong defensively or why so and so was great?

It’s awful.

You see it at the professional level too. Some guys are better in front of the microphone than others, but sometimes you watch an NFL or NBA press conference and just have to say, “Really? In a room full of reporters you see every day, that’s your answer?”

Thankfully, it’s something you never here from Bethlehem Steel head coach Brendan Burke.

Burke is going to be direct with you. He’s going to look you dead in the eye and answer your question head on. If a Bethlehem player wasn’t good enough, he’ll say so. Not, “we weren’t good enough in the attack today.” No, if you ask about a player and Burke didn’t like his performance, he’ll call him out. If a Steel player dominated an opponent, he’ll single that opponent out and compliment his guy.

It’s the kind of stuff some coaches just flat out don’t say. Surely they think it, but don’t say it.

Burke will get into tactics with you too. If you ask a specific question about wing play or counterattacks, he’ll treat you as a respected soccer voice and dive into analysis. It’s one thing to know your stuff, but it’s another to talk about it openly and respect others that follow the game.

And let’s be clear: Burke truly knows his stuff. His job is difficult. His focus is player development, but oh by the way, you’re playing in a very competitive league and you have 24 hours to pick a starting lineup because you just found out which players are available. To expect a coach to produce results under that kind of structure is frankly ridiculous, but there the Steel are, comfortably in a playoff spot in the Eastern conference.

Ultimately, though, Burke being good at his job isn’t why you should like him. Rather, it’s because he’s passionate about his job.

Earlier this season, I wrote a rather blunt column stating the United Soccer League doesn’t matter. But you know what?

It matters to Burke. It matters to him a lot. In every single interview you can tell just how much he cares about results and just how much he cares about his players. He wants them to succeed and, more importantly, grow.

Burke is simply a classy guy. He carries himself well, he’s respectful to players, staff, and media, and he’s pitch-perfect for the job.

There should be more coaches like him.


  1. Old Soccer Coach says:

    “ … Comfortably in playoff position … .”
    Well, I’m not comfortable yet.
    They have three left, two away, and the home game is against a team that as we speak has won three straight.
    They must have three more points, and one or two more would be nice for comfort.

    Ottawa should be one point behind them by Saturday, Indy should be ahead of them two Saturdays from now, and Tampa is the hot team on a roll. None of these games are easy. The Steel are the underdogs because of being away in the first two.

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