Philadelphia Union Sporting Director Ernst Tanner met with reporters at the Power Training Complex Friday afternoon in what was expected to be an interview about the arrival of MLS pool goalkeeper Charlie Lyon.
But after talking about Lyon and a process it seemed like he had only recently learned was a thing (eight months on the job isn’t enough to learn the entire MLS rulebook, after all), Tanner explained the mysterious absence of Cory Burke by dropping a bombshell that the Jamaican international may not be back for the rest of the season.
“Cory is down in Jamaica to do his visa process and unfortunately it turned out he will not be coming back before three months maybe even longer, which means that he is not available for the rest of the season due to personal issues,” Tanner said. “It’s a little bit unlucky, I feel really sorry for the boy but you know with these processes you don’t have everything in your control.”
There’s been a lot to sort out, but here is what we know about the situation:
It’s not criminal in nature
Tanner’s explanation was short on details but he did say this: “I can assure you he didn’t do any crimes over there.”
As they did when Burke missed the Vancouver game on Saturday and FC Cincinnati, the club is characterizing what happened as personal in nature and saying that he is safe and his family is OK.
It’s not the Union’s fault
While Union Twitter was quick to assume the worst about the front office — this was, under a different regime of course, a team that never offered Manchester City-bound Zack Steffen a contract and ended up losing his homegrown rights — it appears as though the issue that led to his visa being canceled was not anything the Union did or didn’t do.
The account given is that Burke returned to Jamaica to finalize his green card — it’s standard operating procedure for a player to leave the country and return to finalize the green card — and that a personal issue led to his visa being canceled.
He’ll be unable to play for the Union for 3-6 months
Tanner mentioned a three-month time period but also said Burke would likely miss the rest of the season in his remarks on Friday.
“He lost his P1 status,” Tanner said. “That’s the problem. He needs to re-apply for that.”
Burke’s availability for Gold Cup is unknown
Burke no longer has a valid P-1A visa (a visa issued to athletes in order to be eligible to play professionally in the U.S.) but this may not necessarily prevent him from competing with Jamaica in the Concacaf Gold Cup in June. The Reggae Boyz open the tournament in Kingston on June 17 against Honduras before playing their two remaining group games at U.S. venues. The knockout rounds are all being played in U.S. cities.
Philadelphia Inquirer and Philly.com writer Jonathan Tannenwald has reported that Burke’s visa issue “shouldn’t affect” his status for the Gold Cup because it is a “different process” but he doesn’t site a source or explain what that different process is. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration website states that the P-1A classification applies “if you are coming to the U.S. temporarily to perform at a specific athletic competition as an athlete, individually or as part of a group or team, at an internationally recognized level of performance.”
Burke is still under contract but no longer on the roster
Burke is still under contract with the club, but a team official said he will no longer be on the roster or take up an international spot. This leaves the Union with nine international players for eight spots on the first team roster and will mean — at least until Michee Ngalina gets a first team contract or Jack Elliott gets his green card — that they will have loan one player down each week to Bethlehem Steel to stay roster compliant.
Burke may not be missed
While Burke tied for the team lead in goals with 10 in his first season on the first team roster — he initially joined Bethlehem Steel FC on loan from Rivoli United in their inaugural season in 2016 — the emergence of Kacper Przybylko and the anticipated return of Sergio Santos may soften the blow of his absence. Przybylko has a goal in each of his last two games — his first two starts for the first team — and Santos has battled injuries since the Union paid $500,000 to buy out his contract and acquire him from Chile in the offseason. In addition to Kacper and Santos, the Union have Fafa Picault and David Accam as forward options along with Marco Fabián, who is returning from injury, and have the aforementioned Steel FC standout Ngalina as a potential target for a first team contract.
The Union has been through some sh*t this season
Head coach Jim Curtin has found himself repeatedly talking about issues that have arisen two months into the season that no coaching manual ever written has addressed. For as much criticism as he’s received in his tenure as head coach, it’s hard not to admire the work he has been doing in the face of so much turmoil. All this for a team that is sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference table after 10 games.
To review, here’s a list of just the things that have been made public that have happened to the team this season.
Cory Burke: visa issues, out 3-6 months
Marco Fabián: red card suspension and additional game (notification came two days before game), ankle injury
Mark McKenzie: preseason injury, concussion, appendicitis
Sergio Santos: hip flexor injury, old knee injury flare-up
Fafa Picault: car accident on I-95 on his way to training, uninjured
Andre Blake: injured groin in game
Matthew Freese: tore oblique muscle in game
Kai Wagner: suspended two games for red card (notification of second game suspension came day before game)
There is still more to unfold with this story and plenty of questions now about Burke’s long-term future with the club but also his short-term future as a soccer player. Will he be loaned back to a club in Jamaica or somewhere else other than the U.S. to get minutes? Will he be reunited with Union teammate Andre Blake in the Gold Cup? What’s the name of that MLS pool goalkeeper again?
As always, we’ll do our best to keep you up to date on developments with Burke and the rest of the comings and goings of our favorite MLS team.