As Chivas USA scramble, Bobby Burling steps in as go-to starter

Bobby Burling

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USA TODAY Sports

CARSON, Calif. – Chivas USA defender Bobby Burling had never been a part of a three-man backline at any level before manager José Luis “El Chelís” Sánchez Solá arrived this season. So when Wálter Vílchez went down with a knee injury on March 10, Burling stepped into uncharted territory.

In the weeks leading into the season, Chelís publicly pegged Burling as one of the club’s cornerstones, yet the seven-year veteran began the season on the bench. Now Burling, 28, is out to make the most of his opportunity while Vílchez – who sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee – recovers.

“One thing that is very, very clear is what [Chelís] wants out of us three in the back,” Burling told MLSsoccer.com. “As a group and as a team, that’s all you can ask for from your coach. Whether you’re on board or not, he’s going to make it very clear what he wants out of each position. It’s been effective so far and we’ve adapted to his playing style. As long as we’re winning and the results are coming, everybody is on board.”

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Burling has already started more games this season than he played in all of 2012, when he appeared in only three matches. He has looked comfortable playing alongside Mario de Luna and Joaquín Velázquez, both of whom are in their first MLS seasons and had previous experience under Chelís in Mexico.

The competition in the backline, though, has only helped the group.

“The mentality of the coaching staff has been passed down to the players and everybody is in a battle for each position,” Burling said. “The most important thing is that no one gets comfortable. It’s always about pushing each other. The competition can get heated, but it’s always friendly. This is a good group of guys. There’s a language barrier, but we’re adapting in all ways and everybody is getting along great.”

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Along with Miller Bolaños (hamstring) and Oswaldo Minda (quad), Vílchez was listed as “out” on Chivas USA’s injury report this week but has not suffered any setbacks in his recovery, a team spokesman said.

“Unfortunately, there’s always going to be injuries in this league and in this sport,” Burling said. “Wálter is obviously a big part of this team and, with the amount of experience he has, he’s going to be a huge part of this team when he comes back. He has the ability to do stuff on the field that we need. Hopefully he’ll have a speedy recovery and not miss a beat when he comes back.”