Extra work paying off in big way for Columbus' Burns

OBETZ, Ohio — Two-a-days are usually associated with football practices, but Kevin Burns and several other Columbus Crew teammates made it a habit this summer of using second sessions to maintain or increase their fitness to make up for not playing matches on a regular basis.

Burns credits those workouts — some after the Crew’s scheduled practice sessions at the Obetz training facility and others during evenings at a suburban high school soccer field — for helping him get back into the lineup as well as keeping his sanity.

“That’s how I deal with things, through working out,” said Burns, who has a degree in psychology from Connecticut. “You get your frustration out [from not playing].

“You’re a little depressed [when you don’t play],” he added. “It’s like showing up on Saturday and just sitting there. … No player wants to do that. I don’t want to be that guy, so when I get my chance, I’m ready to go and not give them a reason or excuse for me not being out there.”

The midfielder started the second through ninth games this season, then sat three matches. After starting but being subbed out at halftime of the Real Salt Lake match on June 8, he made only three appearances for 46 minutes over the next 10 games.

“Kevin’s a true professional. He never complained,” said defender Julius James, a UConn teammate.

While Burns started the US Open Cup match against Richmond on June 28 and a friendly vs. Newcastle United four weeks later, it wasn’t enough to keep him sharp.

He and teammates such as Jeff Cunningham, Cole Grossman, Dilly Duka and Ben Sippola stayed after practice or several of them would meet again at night to put in some extra work.

“There’s a park near our house, so we go knock it around there,” Burns said. “We usually go around 8 pm, that way the sun’s not beating down. We have a lot of fun; do a lot of technical work and fitness, play some 2-v-2.”

It has paid off for Burns. He started in the past two matches and will likely get another nod on Saturday at Seattle, where he scored his lone pro goal during the Open Cup final last season.

“If he plays like the past two games, he can be on the field,” coach Robert Warzycha said. “He’s doing things we asked him to do and he’s doing better.”

Burns’ philosophy is simple: “I try to be one of the last guys to leave practice. You have to if you’re not playing consistently, especially the two months there were no reserve games. You really couldn’t test your fitness.”

Even though Burns has made the first XI again, he knows this is not the time to ease up because the Crew (11-7-7) are getting healthy and the competition will increase for minutes.

“Kevin waited his time,” James said after a recent practice. “He kept his mouth shut and he got his opportunity. Look at him now. He’s still doing extra workouts because he wants to stay there.”