Bobby Burling is surrounded by Red Bull spectators as he rises high for his first MLS goal in a 4-0 win against New York. Photo: Joe Nuxoll, centerlinesoccer.com
In a surprisingly strong start to the season for the San Jose Earthquakes, many players have impressed with their performances. Goalkeeper Joe Cannon has posted three shutouts in his last four starts. Bobby Convey and Ramiro Corrales have paired up as the most in-form left-sided tandem in MLS. Chris Wondolowski scored his fourth goal in four games in the victory against the New York Red Bulls.
And now we can add Bobby Burling to that list of players making their mark for a team many in the media picked to reside at the foot of the Western Conference standings. In two games since stepping in for rookie Ike Opara in the center of the Earthquakes back line, Burling has been instrumental in rendering first Conor Casey of the Colorado Rapids and second Juan Pablo Angel of New York ineffective with his determination to defend. Oh yeah, throw in his first career goal to cap off the Quakes scoring last Saturday night, and Burling is garnering the attention for his abilities that has been lacking after more than a season battling injury.
"This is the best I've felt in over a year," shared the 6' 5" defender. "It was tough for me last season, but that can happen in the world of professional sports. I had a rough year both physically and mentally, so I am excited to be playing and feeling better."
When Burling arrived in San Jose after a trade with Chivas USA, the Colorado native brought stability to a Quakes defense that was getting punished over the course of the season for over 50 goals. He was still recovering from injuries that limited him to just three games for Chivas, and cost him a starting spot he had earned in the 2008 season. Burling was familiar to Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop from his days coaching in Los Angeles, and he jumped at the chance to bring him north to San Jose.
"He's been great for us," said Yallop when asked about Burling. "He's played really well for us in these last two matches. I always recognized that he was a good player. Unfortunately, you sometimes get judged before you have a chance to do anything. I think we can now say that he is a good player in our league."
Burling had an up and down preseason, as a foot injury prevented him from fully participating in drills and scrimmages. However, those early setbacks did not deter the 25 year old, and he worked tirelessly to be ready when called on. When the season started with Opara paired up with Jason Hernandez in the starting XI, Burling did not hang his head. Instead, he trained hard and waited for his opportunity to come.
"The competition within the team is good," he explained. "We are all friends in the locker room and off the field, and that still rings true when we step between the lines on the practice field. But you have to be ready for your chance. Guys are going to pick up injuries and suspensions, so being ready to step in is good motivation."
Burling has certainly seized his chance, as the Quakes are unscored upon since he joined the starting line-up. Now in his fifth MLS season, he is well aware of his role on the defensive back four -- neutralize the opponent's chief offensive threat with his height and physicality.
"With Jason's (Hernandez) and Ramiro's (Corrales) experience back there, it makes it easy for me to be effective," said Burling. "The strong communication among all the defenders and also Joe (Cannon), have helped post zeroes at home and give our offense a chance to get the wins."
When Burling was first acquired by the Earthquakes last September, Hernandez was the first player to call him up. Having shared time together at Chivas USA, and playing as a defensive duo during the 2007 reserve league, Burling was relieved to hear a familiar voice ahead of his arrival in San Jose.
"Jason and I are now roommates here," he smiled. "It has been fun to be reunited with him."
Defensive heroics aside -- and rest assured that stopping the opponents from scoring is his priority -- Burling capped off his great two game run with his first MLS goal off a corner kick from Convey in the 85th minute. Shaking off a distracted Mike Petke, the tallest player on the field rose high to bury the ball in the back of the net and give the home team a 4-0 lead.
"It's been a long time coming to get my first goal," said a modest Burling. "But the clean sheet is what I really take pride in."
Spoken like a true defender. And a young man that hopes to continue to help the Earthquakes extend their early season success.