The last time Cory Burke appeared in an official match for the Philadelphia Union was April 20, 2019, against the Montreal Impact. He scored that day, too.
Almost exactly 18 months later, and after an unexpected journey that took him to Jamaica and then Austria, Burke could be back on the field in a Union uniform in a matter of days.
After the last appearance, Burke he had to leave the country due to a visa issue, one that head coach Jim Curtin called "ridiculous" last month. The Union have been working to get him back but had been unable to do so, sending him on a pair of loan moves first to Portmore United in Jamaica and then to Austria's SKN St. Polten, but he's finally back in Philly.
Burke passed physical and medical tests to return to training this week and Curtin is targeting Monday's match against the New England Revolution as a potential return to competitive action.
“People forget he was our leading scorer when he left the team 18 months ago," Curtin told media on a virtual press conference. "It’s a great piece to have back. Not only in the locker room but obviously on the field. He adds to our stable of attacking players, Cory suits a lot of what we want to do.”
Burke, 28, originally came to Philly through the club's second team. He starred in USL before moving to the Union first team, where he has 12 goals over 36 regular-season appearances (20 starts). His two loans since his last Union appearance were each successful, with 11 goals in 18 matches at Portmore United then four goals and two assists with SKN St. Pölten in Austria's Bundesliga.
The Jamaican international gives Curtin another option up top, alongside Kacper Przybylko, Sergio Santos and Andrew Wooten. Przybylko and Santos have been the preferred pairing in the Union's 4-4-2 narrow diamond set up.
Przybylko is the team's leading scorer with seven goals this season.
“He’s a guy that other teams’ defenders do not like to play against," Curtin said. "I’ll put it that way. Even our guys, their first joke was ‘ah man, Cory’s back, we better wear our shin guards.’ It’s great to have him back. He’s a physical presence and a goalscorer.”
Curtin added that Burke performed well in the club's fitness tests and looks good in training, but noted that playing in matches requires a different level of fitness.
The Union currently don't have an international slot available to add Burke to the roster, but that won't be an issue according to Curtin. The most recent trade involving an international slot was between D.C. United and Sporting KC, as United sent SKC $50,000 in General Allocation Money. in exchange for an international slot for the rest of the season.
“There are some moving parts that go on with that at this stage of the year," Curtin said. "I’ll just say we can find a way that Cory being an international will not prevent us from putting him on the field.”