When FC Dallas goalkeeper Dario Sala went down with a knee injury early in the 2009 season, backup Ray Burse got his shot. While Burse was an admirable fill-in for the veteran Argentinean, the Ohio State product also fell victim to FCD's early season struggles, which included one of the league's most porous backlines.
In his 17 games, Burse saw the team post a 4-8-5 record with a 1.62 goals-against average and just one shutout. Once Sala returned during the summer, he returned to the bench and did not play another league game.
"I think for the season a whole, team-wise, we did very well toward the end of the season," he said. "That gives us a tremendous amount of confidence heading into the 2010 season. Personally, I think had a pretty good year. I played in the most games I've ever played in.
"I think I developed some confidence in myself by playing in MLS. Team-wise and personally, I think it was a pretty good year," he continued. "However, personally, I would like to play more. In the second part of the season, I didn't really play at all. That's something I hopefully want to change going into next season."
Without the MLS reserve league, Burse's saw his chances to remain sharp through game action dwindle.
"I think it's very difficult for a goalkeeper. I think after I stopped playing in late July or early August, I didn't play another competitive game the rest of the season," he said. "That's almost five months right now without a game. I think it's too long. If you want to develop young players, they need games. Especially goalkeepers, they need games in order to improve. It's difficult."
FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman did like the progression he saw in Burse during his time as his club's starter.
"Ray did a good job for us this year being thrown into the fire because Dario (Sala) got hurt so early and then carrying us for a while. I saw continuing growth in Ray as he went through that process," he said.
Hyndman would like to see an all-out battle for the top goalkeeping spot once FCD commences preseason training on February 1.
"I think Dario is a very capable goalie and a very experienced goalie," the FCD coach said. "There is always a difference when somebody is on your heels, somebody pushing you for playing time. You always want that team competition. That's something we definitely want not only at the goalkeeping position but at every position."
During his 17-game run as FCD's starter, Burse realizes he learned some valuable lessons.
"You cannot dwell on your mistakes. If you make a mistake, you have to put it behind you and go forward," he said. "They say goalkeepers have to have thick skin. You have to put it behind you and move forward."
In November, he found himself among the FCD players left unprotected for the expansion draft. However, Burse didn't worry about possibly going to Philadelphia Union.
"I don't think I was really surprised (they didn't take me)," he said. "You go into it kind of blind and not really knowing what's going to happen. If anything does happen, then you take it as it goes or take it as it happens. If that doesn't happen, you just resume where you were and that's preparing for next season with FC Dallas."
Burse is keeping his focus simple during the winter months.
"I want to work on my fitness. I've been working on that a lot," he said. "I want to incorporate a lot of more of the technical aspects of goalkeeping into my training. Hopefully I will be going and training with an international club somewhere before the season. I can't really say (which clubs I'm looking at). Hopefully I will get a lot of good experience training in a different country and will be able to do some stuff I haven't been able to do here in MLS for the past four years."
And now that he is heading into year five of his MLS career, Burse certainly envisions a breakout campaign for FCD.
"Yeah, I think every player should enter into the season with those goals in mind. I'm going to try to work harder than I ever have to hopefully ensure that this season will be an improvement upon the last four," he said.
Steve Hunt is a contributor to MLSnet.com