Photo: Earl Gardner
Editor’s note: Two days after this post was published, the Philadelphia Union announced that Burke would not be with the club in 2014. Burke said in a press release from the Union, “Working with the Union has been a great experience on every level and something I’ll never forget,” Burke said. “I want to thank the ownership, staff and team for making my time with the club so special. It’s been a privilege to work with the caliber of players here at the Union, but I also feel it is time to go in a different direction in my career.”
Philadelphia Union head coach John Hackworth said in the press release, “Brendan has been an integral part of our organization over the past few years and he is going to be greatly missed. At the same time, he is in pursuit of opportunities to advance in his career and we fully support him. Brendan’s dedication to our club will always be appreciated and on behalf of our players, technical staff and entire organization, I want to express our thanks for his service.”
Reading United announced on Dec. 29, 2013 that longtime head coach Brendan Burke was leaving the club to expand his duties with the Philadelphia Union, where he had been an assistant coach since 2011. Replacing Burke at Reading is David Castellanos, who grew up in Philadelphia and has been head coach of the Penn State-Abington men’s team as well as a youth coach at FC Delco. PSP’s Sean Doyle looks at Burke’s legacy and talks with the Union assistant coach.
Brendan Burke forever changed Reading United AC.
Following the 2007 Premier Development League season, Reading Rage were a club in transition. On and off the field, Reading was in flux. Art Auchenbach and Troy Snyder joined the Reading ownership team while former head coach Derek Broadley departed the club to become the technical director of Bermuda’s National Soccer Team.
In need of a new head coach, Burke tossed his name into consideration. A former defensive star for Boston College, the 24 year old Burke took the reigns as the club’s head coach in 2008 and set about a transformation that would see Reading become one of the elite organizations in the Premier Development League.
- Auchenbach, now the club’s president and general manager, reflected on one of his biggest decisions while in charge of United. “While I personally had some initial trepidation in hiring a young, inexperienced former player in 2008, Brendan immediately allayed any fears and as his record shows, he established himself as one of the top young coaches in US soccer.”
The young and untested coach immediately validated Auchenbach’s decision. Brendan Burke’s accomplishments in six seasons with Reading United are nothing short of legendary. Under his stewardship, United won the 2009 Regular Season Championship, the 2008 and 2010 Eastern Conference Titles and the 2008, 2009 and 2010 Mid-Atlantic Division titles. Burke also led Reading to six consecutive appearances in the PDL postseason and helped the club earn a US amateur record five consecutive appearances in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. During his tenure, Brendan Burke amassed 71 PDL victories in charge of Reading.
Burke’s enduring legacy with Reading will be his achievements in the area of player development. The former Reading boss is a tireless scout and has a keen eye for spotting the potential in a soccer player. Following yet another successful Major League Soccer SuperDraft, 23 of Burke’s former Reading United players are on the rosters of 14 MLS clubs. Six other former players ply their trade in either the North American Soccer League or USL PRO, the second and third tiers of the US soccer pyramid. In total, 32 of Burke’s former players are playing professional soccer in the United States or in Europe.
Steve Neumann, Reading United’s captain in 2013 and the fourth overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, spoke of how Burke readied his players for the professional game.
“Over the years Brendan has always demanded the best out of his players at Reading United because he knows very well what it takes to make the jump from college soccer to the professional ranks,” Neumann said. “His training sessions always felt like a professional environment which translated into our game day success.”
Neumann continued, “He instilled a professional attitude in me to prepare me for the life of a professional soccer player. He has taught me to handle myself the right way both on the field and off the field.”
Burke’s success with Reading caught the attention of United’s player development partners, the Philadelphia Union. In 2011, the United head coach signed on with the Union technical staff and became the head coach of the Union’s reserve team. Burke saw his role with the Union expand following the dismissal of Peter Nowak in June of 2012.
For Burke, most spring and summer days during the PDL season started in coaches’ meetings or training sessions with the Union. As detailed in this excellent video by the Union, Coach Burke’s hectic day continued with the hour long commute from Chester to Reading where he would take charge of United’s training sessions.
Union head coach John Hackworth commended his young assistant coach. “Brendan does an excellent job teaching and communicating,” Hackworth said “He has continued to develop his strong base of knowledge while gathering invaluable experience. In addition, Brendan has an outstanding work ethic that is evident in his steadfast determination to succeed.”
And Burke has succeeded. As he leaves United to become a full time assistant coach with the Philadelphia Union, he does so as the most successful head coach in the Reading’s history. Like so many of his former players, the former United boss is moving on to a career in Major League Soccer.
Auchenbach acknowledged Burke’s impact on the club during his tenure as Reading United head coach.
“We are not the team, or organization, we are today without the tremendous contributions made by Brendan,” Auchenbach said. “His innate ability to identify talented players, recruit them to Reading, motivate and coach those players, and manage a consistently winning squad has been unrivaled. As his coaching record shows, he has set a very high standard for coaches throughout the PDL, and we are confident that he will continue to raise his profile within the Union organization and wherever his future soccer coaching career takes him.”
Following the announcement of Burke’s departure from Reading, I had the chance to sit down with the former Reading following the announcement of his departure from the club to reflect on his six very successful years in charge of United.
Tell us how you became the Head Coach of Reading United?
I became the head coach at Reading after coming down from Boston to captain the team the year before under Derek Broadley. When he stepped out to be the technical director of Bermuda, no one stepped forward and I had a pretty good knowledge of the league from my time at Cape Cod so I stepped forward even though I was 24 at the time and said I would do it. Art and Troy had just come in as owners and they gave me the chance.
Who inspired you to be a soccer coach?
I don’t think there was one person that influenced me to be a soccer coach, certainly my father has always been a big influence even though he didn’t play, he kind of learned the game with me as I was growing up. I would say guys in the game that I look to for advice and certainly early in my time at Reading and to this day would come down to one person, Ian Hennessey at Delaware. He was our assistant coach at Boston College and I always liked the way he taught and saw the game. There have been many other excellent coaches that I trust and continue to learn from, but those two have been a constant for me.
When you took over the club in 2008, what were your goals for Reading?
My goals for Reading in 2008 were to make the playoffs and qualify for the Open Cup, the club had not accomplished either in a long time at that point, so we needed something to build on. Within that goal, I knew that in order to consistently attract good players we had to train every day and maintain a professional environment. We accomplished all of this year one which honestly caught me off guard a little. I thought it would take more time.
Going back six years, did you ever imagine being in the position you’re in today?
I did imagine that I would be in this position and I have sacrificed a great deal to be here: better money, weddings, birthdays, other family events. I always treated it like a full time job with an eye on my own career development. I am lucky to work in a field that I am extremely passionate about. By 2009, I knew I was capable of moving to the next level as long as I stayed grounded and committed to always learning from the people in positions and leagues above me.
How did you and the Reading staff go about building the club into what it is today?
I would say that it really started with Ged Quinn and Stephen Hogan. We all brought players to the table the first few years and still do today. The more success we enjoyed, the more high quality players we were able to attract and it is no secret in my mind anyway that you are only as good as a staff as the athletes you are able to bring together. It was always my priority to recruit well and make sure the team trained well consistently. We were lucky over the years to have worked with some of the best young players in MLS, USL and NASL. And all of the college coaches around the country that trusted us to work with those types of guys deserve a huge amount of the credit in our success.
The first Reading match I ever attended was a playoff match against Cary in which the club lost in extra time and you were ejected. How have you grown as a coaching professional in your six seasons with Reading United?
Hahaha… That was the only match that I have ever been dismissed from at any level so it is funny you mention it. I certainly learned from that day but have no regrets, we were the best team in the country hands down and just ran into the wrong referee and a good team that night, that happens in soccer. It is an emotional game at the higher levels and everyone has a lot on the line so I accept that sometimes it boils over. I always asked a lot of my team in terms of commitment and work and they were a special group, I was heartbroken to see it unfairly taken away from them.
You’re an excellent teacher of the game of soccer. I’ve seen you run camps with 8 and 9 year olds in the early stage of playing soccer, I’ve watched you manage top college players and witnessed your transition to a Major League Soccer coach dealing with professional athletes. What fuels your passion for the game of soccer?
It’s all I can think about, I can’t really explain it. I guess it is an obsession — I’ll always be chasing the perfect training session or performance in a match. Working with the young one’s is a little different, you want them to learn but it is more important to me that you are positive with them as a coach and that they walk away from the field already looking forward to the next time they get to come back and play. I love watching and helping in whatever small way in peoples success in the game.
What were some of your favorite things about being the head coach of Reading United?
I enjoyed game days more than anything else. Competition. There are a ton of good young coaches and older more established coaches around the country in the PDL and I always enjoyed the teams and games that stretched us to our limits. I enjoyed the people that were in and around the team on a consistent basis, our owners, our fans, the kids in the community that took the opportunity to really connect with our players and staff…Everyone’s passion for the game and seeing how much everyone enjoyed our team was a source of pride for me.
Was there a team or a season that sticks out as the best that you’ve coached?
I think 2008 was the year that I had the most to do and to prove. We had very very good players on that team but not “blue chip” type guys from the big schools with national team pedigree. I think that year, our staff did a great job of organizing the team and helping them to play against some big names with a real chip on their shoulder. It was a focused, fun and educational experience for me and the players. There were parts of every year that tested me and stretched me as a coach and I would go to bat for any of the guys that played for me, and that includes guys who never got on the field. It is a difficult industry to navigate and I hope we created somewhat of a fraternity in Reading of successful people and not just players.
Tell me about your single best memory or favorite moment as Reading United Head Coach.
There is not one that stands out, but our 5 goal performance against Fredericksburg at home in 2008 certainly was a turning point and our two wins in Ottawa in 2010 with 12 players in the playoffs was the same. The biggest source of pride for me will always be that I always told my staff and the people close to me from the beginning that team success will lead to individual success and someone told me recently that no one in the US has won more games in the PDL over the same six year period or if they have it is very close. We are leaving as a staff having set the US record for amateur US Open Cup qualifications, that one I am sure of and very proud of. We were not a one-time success story, we were there every year for six years in a row.
What will you miss about being Reading United Head Coach?
I will miss the players and the relationships that were developed over the years with those guys.
As you hand off the reigns of manager to new United Head Coach David Castellanos, what is your advice to him?
Recruit well and work hard on the training environment, the rest takes care of itself. Also, enjoy yourself, wherever you end up you will miss it when it’s gone.
Reading has a very loyal group of supporters, what is your message to them?
Soccer has yet to turn the corner in this country, but it is getting very close so you have a lot to be excited about and your support will continue to allow the club to bring some future pros to your backyard every year. That’s a special thing for kids and I hope you all appreciate the work that the ownership and support staff do there.
In your six seasons with Reading United, what are you most proud of?
I am proud that we have created a place that some of the best young players out there are willing to invest their time and energy and careers in, and I thank every last guy that has come through the program for where I sit today.