ChampionsGate, Florida – Preston Burpo knows a thing or two about MLS. He also knows a little bit about resilience, the former MLS goalkeeper and now goalkeeper coach of the New York Red Bulls having undergone a horrific leg injury that ended his professional career.
It was May 29, 2010 and Burpo at the time was consistently considered one of the best keepers in the league. It was just another game for Burpo, who was the starter at the time for the New England Revolution. Or at least it was supposed to be.
The match was ironically against the Red Bulls, and the Revolution, at home, were up 2-1 in the 34th minute over their Eastern Conference rivals. Red Bulls midfielder Dane Richards was played in a lovely through-ball that put him in alone on Burpo’s goal. Burpo raced out to cut down the angle, just like he has done hundreds of times before in training and games.
But unlike previous times, Richards foot landed on Burpo’s body.
Moments later, the goalkeeper was writhing in pain, his right leg below the knee sharply bent away from its normal position. His tibia and fibula were snapped, his career ended that very moment. Now there’s an intriguing twist to Burpo’s coaching career as he is back with the team where his career ended.
“I literally never thought of that the past two weeks,” Burpo told Metro last week following a Red Bulls training session at the Omni Resport Orlando.
“Someone asked me about the Dane thing. Just said ‘Yeah, it is a play we all want back.’ Full circle? Never really thought of that.
“It’s fun being here. The Dane thing – he actually called me a few days after. He was very apologetic. Never had any ill will. I truly never thought about what happened, it is part of the game. I was getting to the point of wrapping things. Was getting to 37 [years old]. Never really got to the point of ‘What ifs.’ Rehabbed and got focused on the future and coaching.”
Now Burpo brings his quiet, calm demeanor to a team with plenty of talent at the goalkeeper position. There is Luis Robles, who just got a second career national team cap last week in a 3-2 win over Iceland. And behind him are players such as Ryan Meara and Kyle Reynish, both of whom have significant starting experience as well as Rafael Diaz, an exciting young prospect.
And in Burpo, head coach Jesse Marsch has a coach he knows as a player as well as from along the bench. Burpo was Marsch’s goalkeeper coach with the Montreal Impact in 2012.
He then went on to coach at D.C. United the following two years after one season in Montreal.
“The conversation started in the offseason. I knew Jesse from the past, playing and coaching. I know the organization went through their process, figuring out what they were going to do. They came to me and it was pretty easy from my end in terms of saying yes – from what I’ve seen from the outside looking in about this group. What Jesse and Ali said about the organization. When they decided to offer me something, it was just a ‘Yes.’ It was pretty simple actually,” Burpo said.
“Luis has been very good since he’s been back in the US. Very good. Now you have the opportunity for me to work with Luis. I am familiar with Reynish from afar, with Meara from afar and now I’m getting used to Diaz.
“It is going to be a fun group for sure.”