Reports from Jamaica all but tie the bow on the more than welcomed return of Cory Burke to the Philadelphia Union after being loaned to Portmore United due to US work-visa issues in 2019. What does Burke’s reappearance mean for the Union? And can Burke continue to excel as a goal-scoring striker in 2020?
Eight months ago, the Philadelphia Union were sitting comfortably in first place in the Eastern Conference table through 10 games. The first two months of the season were more positive than some had expected despite starting the season with back-to-back losses, losing their newly minted star player Marco Fabian to a multi-game red card suspension and an ankle injury, leg injuries to both starting keeper Andre Blake and homegrown back-up Matt Freese and a bombshell revelation that landed the team’s starting striker with an abrupt return trip to his home country of Jamaica with no clear return date.
The surprising and albeit sad news from Union Sporting Director Ernst Tanner the afternoon of Friday, May 3rd could’ve easily been the proverbial hole that sunk the Union’s ship before passing the half-way mark of the season. Tanner revealed that Burke had been in Jamaica instead of with the team in Chester. Tanner then explained Burke had been there a few weeks without any official news from the team due to issues with his immigration visa paperwork.
There is still no official word on why his visa was not renewed at that time. The team indicated there was no criminal conduct that interfered with the routine immigration process. All we knew – and still know – is that Burke returned home to renew his paperwork and encountered ‘personal issues’ that prevented the successful renewal of his visa.
Tanner then explained he would be loaned out to Portmore United of Jamaica’s Red Stripe Premier League (RSPL) and would no longer hold an official international roster spot with the Union. The timetable on a possible return was three to six months without their leading scorer.
Burke never did return to the United States. He wouldn’t have a chance to improve upon his opportunity to be Philadelphia’s main goal scorer in 2019.
Instead, he tore up the RSPL leading Portmore United and the Humble Lions to a league championship behind 11 goals in 20 games played. Burke finished second in the league in scoring and turned the heads of many back in his home country.
Now, Burke is reportedly set to rejoin the Union just in time for preseason to officially begin. According to a recent Jamaica Star report, Burke received positive news regarding the processing of his US work visa.
The report clearly states the following: “Burke is set to return to Major League Soccer side Philadelphia Union for preseason training after he successfully re-applied for his visa, which allows him to play in the United States.”
The Union declined official comment, yet the news seems all but solid. So, what does Burke’s reappearance mean for Philadelphia?
The most notable aspect of Burke’s game is his ability to press high up the pitch – to be the main catalyst defensively for Philadelphia’s system. His ability to absorb pressing cues while using quick bursts of speed to force hastened decisions from opposing teams’ defenders is one of the main reasons he quickly climbed the ranks from Bethlehem Steel FC to first-team soccer with the Union in MLS.
The other aspect of his game, of course, is his ability to find the back of the net. In 20 career starts with the Union, Burke tallied 12 goals along with one assist. Considering fellow striker Kacper Przybylko’s standout season last year with 15 goals and four assists on 25 starts, it’s not hard to imagine Burke could have the same success with longer stretches of play.
The newly turned 28-year old will also presumably have a lot to prove to Union fans that is he capable of handling a full-time MLS workload. One would also expect Burke to enter preseason camp with a chip of sorts on his shoulder. He should be hungry to prove to himself that he can be a worthy candidate as the team’s main goal-getter.
Imagining a one-two punch of Przybylko and Burke should help Union fans sleep easy for now. But to what extent Burke will impact the Union in 2020 remains largely up in the air.
However, any coach in any sport welcomes an abundance of weapons. Now, Head Coach Jim Curtin will have Burke and Przybylko along with forwards Sergio Santos and Andrew Wooten – both of whom have much to prove as well. Competition among the forward groupings in training should yield more fruitful offensive results for Philadelphia.
Burke returning to Philadelphia could be a major wildcard for Curtin and his staff. Only time will tell of course, but for now, Union fans can hopefully rejoice knowing Burke and his immigration saga has finally come to a satisfying end.
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Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports