Cory Burke is not going to carry the New Jersey Red Bulls this season. The 31-year-old backup striker was signed from Philadelphia Union as a depth piece, not a player who will carry a franchise. But in the 30-plus minutes he played for the Red Bulls earlier tonight, he showed us what New York City FC are missing.
In case you didn’t watch the game, Burke didn’t score the winning goal for the Red Bulls. He took just one shot, and it was slightly off-target. His passing accuracy was a decent-ish 83%. He won half of his ground duels, and none of his aerial duels. If you go by the numbers, his FotMob-rated 6.3 performance was nothing special.
But Burke brought a sense of danger to the Red Bulls attack that they were missing all night — and that NYCFC never had. Burke is big, and physical, and unafraid of the opposing defenders. More importantly, he’s single-minded: He runs hard at the goal, and every time he comes into contact with the ball it feels like he could score. He didn’t change the game when he came on in the 68th minute as much as he reset the mood.
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You could see how his presence on the field made a confident New York City defense become cagey and more guarded. Even when he was off the ball, he occupied a good-sized piece of the collective mind of the NYCFC back line. It wasn’t just because of the memory of last year’s Eastern Conference final against the Philadelphia Union. In case you forgot, Burke was with the Union then, and after he came on in the 62nd minute, his side scored promptly three goals to win the game. It’s because he’s a menacing presence who terrorizes defenses, and that kind of charisma creates opportunities not just for him, but for his teammates.
Much has been said about NYCFC going into this season without a No 9. True, New York City are without a striker. but more than that, they’re without a player who brings that killer mindset to the field.
As Yogi Berra said, “Baseball is 90 percent mental, The other half is physical.” The same can be said of soccer. NYCFC are in the running when it comes to the physical half of competing in MLS, but right now they’re coming up short in the 90 percent that is mental.
We used to have multiple players with that mindset.
But they all left at the same time, were never replaced, and no one has stepped up in their absence.
Who is the club captain? And I’m not talking about who is wearing the armband any given day. Who is leading the team, like how SeanJohn did all those years, or like Judge or Jeter? Who does the team rally around? Doesn’t feel like we have anyone.