Just a few weeks away from the start of the 2010 Major League Soccer season, Preston Burpo finds himself in unfamiliar territory – in more ways than one.
Acquired via trade with the Colorado Rapids in January, the 37-year-old goalkeeper was transplanted from the Rocky Mountains of Denver all the way across the country to Foxborough, Mass., in the blink of an eye. Not only was Burpo faced with the prospect of finding a new home almost 2,000 miles away, but he didn’t have much time to contemplate the move, as preseason training started just days after he was officially added to the Revolution’s roster.
Under normal circumstances, the trade alone would’ve been enough to pull a player out of his comfort zone. But these were not normal circumstances.
Burpo, who has primarily served as one of Major League Soccer’s most reliable backups throughout his career, was brought to New England to be a starter – immediately.
The need for a goalkeeper arose in the offseason, when longtime starter Matt Reis underwent two separate operations – surgery on his left rotator cuff in December and a procedure on his left knee in February. All told, Reis is expected to miss 12-16 weeks from the date of his most recent surgery, which provides an estimated return-date of sometime around May. With the season opener scheduled for March 27 in Los Angeles, the question isn’t whether Reis will miss time, but rather how much time he will miss.
Adding to the Revolution’s dilemma was the loss of second-string goalkeeper Brad Knighton, who was selected in the 2010 MLS Expansion Draft by the Philadelphia Union after spending the first three years of his career in New England. That left 22-year-old Bobby Shuttleworth as the only healthy goalkeeper on the Revolution’s roster, and because Shuttleworth has yet to make a professional appearance, the club acted quickly to bring in Burpo.
Despite his veteran status, Burpo is relatively unaccustomed to being the undisputed top choice entering the start of a season. He’s made 46 career appearances during the course of a long career – which has included stints with Colorado, Chivas USA, San Jose and Kansas City – but only once has he played more than 15 games in a season, in 2006 when he made a career-high 19 appearances with Chivas USA.
While his current position as the club’s starting goalkeeper entering the season might be new territory for Burpo, he says that he has in no way had to alter his preseason preparations.
“Every preseason my expectation is to be in the net,” he said. “I would say for the most part [my preparation doesn’t change]. I’m still going about my business and doing what I think I need to do to make sure I’m ready, regardless of whether I’m the starter or not.”
Because of his steady work ethic and professional attitude, Burpo hasn’t had to significantly change the way he goes about his business on the field. Of course, there’s still that little matter of adapting to an entirely new part of the country.
For someone who claims that he likes to hit the beach on his days off, Foxborough in February can be quite the shock.
Luckily for Burpo, he was already quite familiar with New England. A 1996 graduate of New Hampshire College (now Southern New Hampshire University), he spent a four-year collegiate career playing just 60 miles north of Foxborough. Not only that, he also played alongside Karl Edmonds, who now serves as the Revolution’s Director of Youth Development.
“It’s helped that I know a few people – some good people back from college,” he said.
With one full month of preseason training in the books – and now just weeks remaining before the start of the season – it’s clear that Burpo has acclimated to his surroundings. He played the full 90 minutes in the Revolution’s 2-0 loss to FC Dallas on the recent trip to Orlando, Fla., and despite the loss, he showed why head coach Steve Nicol and Vice President of Player Personnel Michael Burns were so keen to trade for him.
As opposed to barking instructions at his defenders, Burpo’s composed demeanor not only provided the necessary sense of leadership, but also served to calm the young backline.
“It’s amazing,” said Cory Gibbs, who joined Burpo from Colorado in exchange for Jeff Larentowicz and Wells Thompson. “It’s what we need. He’s vocal, gives good direction, his leadership’s great. His experience will definitely help our youth and we look forward to that in the season.”
Despite being one of the newest members of the Revolution, Burpo has been thrust into a unique situation as one of the club’s leaders. At 37 years old, he has the experience which is lacking on a roster overflowing with players in their mid-20s, while he’s one of a handful of players who must fill the void left by the loss of veterans Steve Ralston and Jay Heaps.
Modest as he is, Burpo is quick to point out that there are others who’ve been with the team longer who can also help take on leadership roles, and he’s merely trying to assist in any way that he can.
“It’s a little bit of a change for me, for sure,” he acknowledged. “I think there are a couple guys out here who are trying to lead the way, and I’ll do what I can to keep this thing moving forward.”