For Union assistants, increased workload is no big thing

CHESTER, Pa. – Brendan Burke walks slower these days. That’s the effect of the sprained ankle he suffered two weeks ago at the River Cup, the annual soccer game pitting the Philadelphia Union front office against the Sons of Ben.

But for Burke and fellow Union assistant coach Rob Vartughian, the pace around PPL Park is quicker than ever.

“It doesn’t really ever end,” Vartughian told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s just like one continuous day.”

For more than two months – following the departures of ex-manager Peter Nowak, ex-sporting director Diego Gutiérrez and former youth technical director Alecko Eskandarian, who often sat on the sidelines as an assistant – Vartughian and Burke have served as the only members of manager John Hackworth’s technical staff.

In other words, there’s still a lot to do but not a lot of people to do it.

“At times, you can feel a little overwhelmed,” said Burke, who also serves as head coach for Philly’s Reserve League team, as well as their affiliate club, Reading United AC of the USL PDL. “But I think we’ve done a good job of dividing it up and kind of just putting our heads down for the last few months and plowing through.”

For Burke, some of his added responsibilities include more off-the field interactions with agents and things of that nature. Vartughian – who first came to Philly as the goalkeeper coach – has a similar role as Hackworth’s right-hand man and quasi-technical director.

“It’s obviously been a lot of change,” Vartughian said. “I came on as an assistant coach, working with the ’keepers. Now I’m assisting John in every facet and trying to make his life easier. That means being his assistant and that means carrying some of the roles of a technical director and handling a lot of those responsibilities.”

While it may be a lot to handle, Vartughian said it’s important to not let the players know they’re overworked. In that regard, it helps that the job is fun for Vartughian and Burke, both of whom especially enjoy scouting the country’s top college players.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t really feel like work,” Vartughian said. “I’m happy with how things are going and I’m excited for the future.”

Hackworth is happy, too. And while additional coaching help may be on the way next season, the Union manager will be forever grateful for the long days his lean technical staff put in during a tumultuous period.

“I think both of those guys have done a fantastic job,” Hackworth said. “It wasn’t an easy situation to step into and it’s not something we would have wished for. But, at the same time, they did what they needed to do and they wore the many different hats assigned to them. And I’m really proud to say I think we’ve actually been working pretty efficiently.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.