Well, this is a happy surprise. After previously having his option for 2018 (obviously) picked up, Brendan Burke has reached an agreement to a multiple year extension as head coach of Bethlehem Steel FC.
First, it’s worth repeating that Burke has been around this organization longer then most. He pulled double duty, first as head coach of Reading United starting in 2008 before becoming the youngest assistant coach in MLS when he was on the Union bench from 2011-2014 while continuing his Reading United duties. He also worked closely with the Union’s then USL affiliate Harrisburg before returning to his native Massachusetts to coach at Northeastern University. He came back to the area as Bethlehem Steel’s first head coach and doesn’t appear to be heading off anywhere in the near future.
That’s all great and someone who “gets” this organization is critical, but for my (incredibly biased) opinion, Burke is one of the best coaches at developing talent in this country. In order, Fabian Herbers, Ken Tribbett, Derrick Jones, Auston Trusty, Cory Burke, Anthony Fontana, Matt Real, Mark McKenzie have all signed first team deals. The next batch of Academy kids like Issa Rayyan, Tonny Temple, Brenden Aaronson, Ben Ofeimu and Seth Kuhn look poised to get some big minutes at the professional level. While equal credit goes to Tommy Wilson and the rest of the Academy coaching staff, Brendan has gone above and beyond all expectations for not only developing the professional guys he has, but the kids as well.
Speaking of the pro guys. Derrick Jones and Cory Burke are the two big names that have had MLS ramifications recently. Let’s talk about Chris Nanco, the speedy Canadian winger that came into his own with four goals and two assists last year. Santi Moar, who put up six assists and six goals in a USL Rookie of the Year finalist season. He got Adam Najem to prove his playmaking prowess with an eight-assist season. Burke got a first team deal largely in part to his big play as the spearhead of a deadly attack. Jake McGuire was in the running for the golden glove for best USL keeper. James Chambers, well, continues to bark orders from midfield and seems a perfect fit in his role as veteran leader and the embodiment of professionalism for this side.
Under his direction, Bethlehem Steel had a fantastic 2017. The Lehigh Valley club went 12-12-8 notably with a big run of eight unbeaten games, highlighted by three straight road wins. Also of note, Steel took regular season series against FC Cincinnati, Red Bull II, Harrisburg City Islanders and Toronto FC II.
Union Sporting Director Earnie Stewart weighed in on Burke in a news release announcing the extension:
“When you look the progression and accomplishments of Bethlehem Steel FC over the past two seasons, Brendan has played a vital role in helping develop key pieces to our organization’s future. In the USL, players are gaining valuable experience within our system, aiding in the transition to the first team, with Derrick Jones, Auston Trusty and Cory Burke serving as great examples. Steel FC’s success is a testament to the importance of Burke and his staff and he has earned this extension through his hard work.”
Burke had this to say:
“I’m excited to continue in this role with the organization. I’ve had a great experience working for Earnie (Stewart), Jim (Curtin) and Chris (Albright) and with everyone at the academy. I look forward to building on the early success of the player development program here with Stephen and the rest of the Steel staff over the next few years. My family and I are thrilled to continue to call Philadelphia home.”
On a personal note, Brendan has been a delight to interview the past two years, and has been more then accommodating in every interaction I have had with him, whether it’s been published or not. On behalf of Brotherly Game, congratulations Coach Burke.