Burke brings ex­pe­ri­ence to Spirit

Vet­eran coach cares about re­sults but not at the cost of de­vel­op­ing his play­ers

The Washington Post - - SPORTS - BY STEVEN GOFF

chicago — Richie Burke played pro­fes­sional soc­cer in Eng­land, Aus­tralia and the United States. He toiled one sum­mer in the chaotic in­door ver­sion of the sport. He has coached high school and youth teams, academies and a Scot­tish club, boys and girls, play­ers with grand am­bi­tion and kids want­ing to just kick around for a bit.

In all cases, he says, the game is the same.

“The ball is round. The field is the same size. It’s 11 ver­sus 11,” he said.

Well, ex­cept that time he wore a snarling warthog on his jer­sey for six-on-six games on a rink-sized sur­face in­side USAir Arena in Lan­dover.

“The prin­ci­ples of play are re­ally what we live and die by as coaches,” the Liver­pool na­tive added. “Foot­ball is foot­ball. It’s the way you like the game to be played.”

Burke, 56, will ap­ply his truths this year to some­thing new for him: a women’s pro team, the Wash­ing­ton Spirit. He was hired last month and for­mally in­tro­duced last week be­fore swing­ing two trades and mak­ing four firstround picks in the Na­tional Women’s Soc­cer League draft Thurs­day.

“Ir­re­spec­tive of the fact I am now work­ing with girls, we are go­ing to play the same way and ad­here to those prin­ci­ples that I be­lieve will make us very suc­cess­ful and a very at­trac­tive prod­uct to watch,” he pledged. “If we are go­ing to lose, we are go­ing to lose with style.”

Burke has lived in the Wash­ing­ton area for most of the past 35 years, with the only sub­stan­tial pause com­ing in 2012-13 when he moved to Scot­land for an as­sis­tant coach­ing job that mor­phed into the head po­si­tion at sec­ond-divi­sion Liv­ingston.

In his time in the Dis­trict, Burke played for Amer­i­can Univer­sity, the Wash­ing­ton Diplo­mats and the Wash­ing­ton Stars in the Amer­i­can Soc­cer League and the Wash­ing­ton Warthogs in the Con­ti­nen­tal In­door Soc­cer League. He coached in D.C. United’s youth sys­tem, served as a first-team as­sis­tant un­der Ray Hud­son in 2002-03 and over­saw the MLS club’s un­der-23 squad in mul­ti­ple sum­mers.

For years, Burke led the Na­tional Cathe­dral School girls’ pro­gram to prep ex­cel­lence — a po­si­tion he kept de­spite a long­ing to be in­volved with a pro out­fit. He had promised his wife he would not seek big­ger op­por­tu­ni­ties out­side the area un­til their chil­dren had com­pleted high school.

“It was a dif­fi­cult pe­riod,” he said. “Not to un­der­mine NCS in any way. It sounds very con­ceited and pig­headed to say it was like Ein­stein teach­ing fourth-grade math. We won ev­ery­thing. Why? Be­cause we were be­ing coached and worked at a higher level. It was a very frus­trat­ing pe­riod, but now I am glad I did it. It was for the fam­ily.”

Most re­cently, Burke worked for two area youth op­er­a­tions, Ev­er­green FC and FC Vir­ginia.

He ad­mits he did not know much about the Spirit un­til this past fall, when in­com­ing ex­ec­u­tive Larry Best, some­one Burke has known for many years, ap­proached him about a va­cancy cre­ated by Jim Gabarra’s dis­missal in Au­gust.

“Once they reached out,” he said, “I started do­ing my home­work.”

Burke will in­herit a team that won twice last year and seven times in two sea­sons (48 matches). There is op­ti­mism, how­ever.

Three of the top young U.S. na­tional team play­ers — Mal­lory Pugh, Rose Lavelle and Andi Sul­li­van, all of whom were slowed by in­juries in 2018 — are ex­pected to re­turn. Bar­ring in­jury, Pugh and Lavelle are cer­tain of mak­ing the World Cup squad and, con­se­quently, miss­ing some time with the Spirit.

The trio will be joined by sev­eral cur­rent or for­mer U.S. un­der23 prospects, in­clud­ing four drafted in the first round Thurs­day.

With those skilled pieces, Burke be­lieves he can in­still a cre­ative and stylish form of soc­cer.

“Some of these [NWSL] fran­chises have gone for some play­ers who are ag­gres­sive and brutish and a lit­tle less in­clined to play foot­ball be­cause it’s a re­sults-ori­ented busi­ness,” Burke said, lament­ing de­fen­sive tac­tics that marred the game glob­ally.

“We will be re­sults-ori­ented, but we want to be aes­thet­i­cally good, too. I am not in­ter­ested in sub­scrib­ing to a style of play that is all about wins at any cost be­cause, from a player de­vel­op­ment stand­point, these young play­ers need to play bet­ter foot­ball.”

The Spirit will open train­ing camp March 4 and be­gin its sev­enth sea­son April 13-14. The team will re­main based at Mary­land Soc­cerPlex but look to play per­haps two of its 12 home matches at Audi Field in the Dis­trict.


From left, first-round draft picks Sam Staab, Te­gan McGrady and Jor­dan DiBi­asi pose with new Wash­ing­ton Spirit Coach Richie Burke.

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